Earlier this year, Yuma Catholic Head Football Coach Rhett Stallworth had to undergo open-heart surgery. While recovering in the hospital, some of his players came to visit, and made him a promise. On Saturday, they were able to deliver.
After the surgery, with Stallworth’s return timeline uncertain, the players dedicated an undefeated season to their leader. Two weeks later, Stallworth was back on the field, helping his team’s promise come to fruition.
The Shamrocks were dominant throughout the 2014 season, but the Division V title would not just be given to them. The one team standing in the way of the perfect season on Saturday was second-seeded Tempe Prep. The Knights came out swinging, jumping out to a 14-0 lead. Yuma Catholic was trailing for the first time all year and was without one of their best playmakers, Carter Rodriguez, who left the game with an injury.
“We lost a guy who is the starting tailback, starting corner, our punt guy, in special teams, (he) holds the kicks. Losing Carter was like losing five people right out of the gate,” Stallworth said.
How did Yuma Catholic respond? By outscoring the Knights 38-13 to go on and win their second straight state title, and fulfilling their promise to Stallworth.
“I just remember seeing him in the hospital, just on the bed, probably the weakest I’ve ever seen him. I’ve got to give him credit. He’s a strong man, out (coaching) two weeks later. It just shows how much he loves this sport and how much he loves this team, and I’m so glad we could give him this promise,” Yuma Catholic quarterback Jagan Cleary said.
Yuma Catholic has been impressive the past few years. Despite residing about three hours from Phoenix, the Shamrocks have played, and beat, some of the top teams in Division V and Division IV around the Valley, including 2014 Division IV champion River Valley, who the Shamrocks beat 43-34 in Week 4.
“We had to dig deep today. But that’s what championship teams do. It just helps to show that there’s no fluke with 14-0, not with the teams we play,” Stallworth said.
This has been a year of firsts for Yuma Catholic. 2014 was the first undefeated season for the Shamrocks, and the first time a Yuma Catholic player has committed to a Division I university. Tight end Matt Pistone has verbally committed to play Saturdays at Oregon State University, and wide receiver and defensive back Donovan Rooks has also drawn interest from multiple schools, and has been offered by Army.
These new heights for the program could set a new standard for the future of the program.
“It’s only going to help the city. Hopefully we bring more scouts out there, and we’ve got a lot of great players on this team that have great potential,” Rooks said. “Hopefully it will bring more prospects and college recruiters to Yuma.”
If Yuma Catholic gets in the habit of undefeated seasons, they will be tough to overlook.