Lean and mean Roughriders ready to defend 2A crown

Pima gets ready for last year's 2A Championship game. (McKenna Merrell/GilaValleyCentral)

I’m not sure you could have drawn up a better rookie season for Pima Head Coach Josh Wilkins. He guided the Riders to a 13-1 record and the 2A State Championship. The title was the team’s first 11-man trophy. They have won 9 others at the 1A and Class C levels. He inherited what was maybe the biggest 2A team in size last season, the team will look different this year but have the same expectations.

Jaxon John – Sr – Athlete (5’11”, 180 pounds)

John was a Swiss army knife for the Pima last season. He earned 1st team all-region at defensive back, flex player, kicker and punt returner. And to top it off, he was named region player of the year, too. On the state level he was named 1st team flex player and 2A All-State offense player of the year as well. He’ll once again be the catalyst for Pima on offense as they carry the target on their backs this season.

Tuddy Smart – Sr – LB/RB (6′, 180 pounds)

Smart led the team in tackles last season with 93 and will be asked to do the same this season. He will also get a few touches on offense as well. He earned 1st team all-region, and 1st team all-state at linebacker last season.

Hayden Blair – Sr – RB/DB (5’8″, 160 pounds)

Blair was the team’s 2nd leading rusher last season with 488 yards and 7 touchdowns. He added 30 tackles on defense and returned a kickoff for a score as well. He looks to be the feature back this season for the Roughriders.

#33 Jr Jeremiah Martinez 6’ 205 FB/NT (6′, 205 pounds)

As a sophomore last season, Martinez pounded his way for nearly 450 yards on the ground with 3 touchdowns. He also caught a touchdown out of the backfield and had 32 tackles on defense. His size will be key in the run first offense the Riders will deploy this season.

#55 Sr Pepper Hughes 5’10 210 G/DL (5’10, 210 pounds)

Hughes will be one of the anchors of both sides of the line this season. He finished last season with 41 tackles.

#58 Jr Brock Haws 6’1 210 OL/DL (6’1″, 210 pounds)

Haws played in 10 games last season as a sophomore and tallied 21 tackles but will be asked to be a big part of the offensive and defensive lines this year but with his size, he should step in easily.

The Roughriders are returning plenty of key players but will be young on the offensive line.

Expect big things from 3 dynamic seniors Jaxon John, Tuddy Smart and Hayden Blair. Rhett Hughes will start at Quarterback and is more of a pocket passer who knows the offense very well and has some big targets in Sam Ray and Preston Russell.  The Riders will have lots of depth at the skill positions but really will look for different ways to get the ball in Jaxon Johns’ hands.

2 questions with Coach Wilkins

Where do you think your team will be the strongest this season? “Defense wins championships and this is where I think we will shine. Tuddy is the best linebacker in the 2A and our front 5 are lean and mean, extremely strong and quick.  Preston Russell and Sam Ray at the ends with Brock Haws, Pepper Hughes, and Jeremiah Martinez holding down the middle. All three demand a double team, you just can’t block them all.

What would you consider a successful season? “We are going to look totally different but exactly the same and expect the same result. You can’t deny the size and talent of last year’s team. But it was their attention to detail that made us good.  This year when we do the little things right, we will be successful.” 

2023 Coaching Staff

Head Coach – Josh Wilkins

Assistant Coaches – Lee Haws, Brent Wiltbank, Jake McBiles, Jed Hughes, Kaden Lofgreen