Mike Valdez wasn’t about to let his senior year, his captaincy and time with his Dobson teammates come to end when he limped off Central High’s field last week.
It’s why, after an MRI confirmed he had a torn ACL in his right knee, he was at practice Wednesday on crutches, going from group to group doing everything he could to remain part of the team even though his senior season ended on the first drive of the second game.
“I was elected captain for a reason,” Valdez said. “These guys believed in me and I’m still going to do everything I can to help. I’ll help the quarterbacks as much as I can and keep everyone focused.”
Valdez was off to a solid start in his first taste of varsity football as he was 4 of 6 with a touchdown pass, one interception and 42 yards on nine carries and the team went 2-0 in games he started.
“You really hate to see a senior lose his year,” Dobson coach Pete Wahlheim said. “He’s a good kid and really understood what we wanted to do on offense.”
Valdez was told his season was done at the game, but didn’t get an official diagnosis until Tuesday. In between the emotions were tough to deal with and even though he held out hope he knew the likely outcome.
“It was like 3 in the morning and it really started to hurt,” he said. “I didn’t get a doctor’s appointment until Tuesday because of the holiday. It seemed to take forever. I cried a few times. I felt like I was playing pretty good after finally getting my chance. It was hard because I kind of knew my senior year was probably over.”
That’s not the case for the Mustangs as they prepare for game No. 3 of 10 as they travel to Gilbert this week.
Some of the most vital moments in a football game is dealing with sudden change.
An interception, a fumble, or mistake on special teams like a blocked punt and suddenly the unit that was on the bench catching their breath or getting instruction from coaches must buckle up and get back on the field.
How a team handles these situations can usually be directly tied to the outcome.
Dobson has shown ability to get past some negative situations considering the Mustangs had six turnovers in the 22-16 win over Rincon in the season opener and losing Valdez in Week 2.
Each a different type of sudden change, but both could have downed the Mustangs.
“It’s an adjustment still, and we haven’t played well yet,” Wahlheim said. “All that considered, we played well in the second half. It’s all new to these guys and we are going in the right direction.”
The Mustangs will need to play at a higher level against Gilbert (1-1) with hopes of beating the Tigers for the second year in a row.
They know that, and they are prepared for it.
“We can definitely be better, and we have to be,” senior 6-foot-5, 295-pound right tackle Marco Salas said. “It comes down to practicing right and being prepared. The coaches will do everything they can and we have to do our part.”
The offense adjusted on the fly last week when junior Nicolas Saro, a transfer from Marcos de Niza, took over control of the offense last week. Saro, who was the starter for the Padres’ junior varsity team last year, has mostly played out of shotgun formations.
Historically, Wahlheim has used the I-formation, tight ends with the quarterback under center in his offensive system. It means there is a bit of a learning curve for Saro while Wahlheim must flip to the deeper recesses of the playbook.
“His footwork has to improve and we have to adjust our offense a little bit,” Wahlheim said. “We have two good tailbacks, and some receivers. We still need a fullback who will block someone. We will have to make it work.”
Saro went 9 for 15 for 163 yards and a touchdown against Central with most of his targets going to freshman Xavier Jimenez, who had seven catches for 120 yards and a 43-yard touchdown in his first varsity action.
The offense, which has been bolstered by junior Issic Gomez (29 carries, 162 yards, 1 TD) and senior Jared Haggard (20 carries, 109, 1 TD), might be adjusting but the defense, especially the front seven, has been pretty good thus far.
Senior middle linebacker Darien Washington, senior safety Richie Langwell, junior defensive end Uriah Holt and and Haggard, who plays linebacker and safety, have been contributors.
The Mustangs, who are looking for their first winning season since 2007, have a different feel under the new coaching staff and hope to be better prepared for the East Valley Region schedule.
“There is a lot more discipline,” Haggard said. “We are building toward something.”
– Jason P. Skoda is a senior writer for MyNewsMesa.com. Send Mesa-based story ideas to email@example.com.