New Cactus head coach Joseph Ortiz knows the Cobras have a tradition-rich program. The first-year head coach is taking over for Hall of Fame coach Larry Fetkenheir, who spent over 30 years with the program.
Surrounding himself with coaches who know the ins and outs of the Cactus community is one of the reasons Ortiz will bring back defensive coordinator Brian Belles, who had been on the coaching staff from 1999-2016, with him being the defensive coordinator from 2004-2016. Belles was on the Hamilton coaching staff last year.
“Him just being a Cactus guy for 16 years, being the defensive coordinator and right hand man for (Coach Fetkenheir) for so many years, and having him come back with the experience he got at Hamilton in the 6A division, it’s big for the community and our football team going forward,” Ortiz said. “He is well-known and well-liked in the Cactus community and to bring him over is just going to make the transition from Larry to me a lot easier.”
Belles left Cactus last offseason to join Hamilton’s staff with his uncle, then-head coach Steve Belles. After Hamilton was the subject of investigation in regards to a hazing scandal, Steve Belles was re-assigned and the family members never got the chance to share a sideline.
“Having the opportunity to coach with (Steve Belles) was an offer I just couldn’t say no to,” Belles said. “Obviously, things didn’t work out the way any of us expected with what went on at Hamilton. Going there and coaching with him was my dream job so to speak. When everything happened this past spring, I was left with a tough decision to make to stay with those kids who I had invested some time in last spring, I didn’t want to walk out on them just because of everything that was happening. So I stuck it through for the kids that were there, and we went through a pretty successful season. But having the opportunity to come back home knowing that my uncle wasn’t going to be at Hamilton anymore, having a chance to get back to Cactus…to get back there with the kids, with my family, and to a place where I am really familiar with, was very enticing to me.”
Ortiz, who had a long tenure himself as Higley’s offensive coordinator before taking the job with the Cobras, has an extensive background finding the end zone, and he is confident Coach Belles can keep opponents out of the end zone.
“I essentially told him he is the head coach of the defense, and he has full autonomy to do what he wants to do,” Oritz said. “I trust him in that aspect. I just think they’re going to be well-disciplined and they are going to know their assignments every game week in and week out. I have faced him before and they are disciplined and very hard-nosed and I know that’s what our defense is going to have.”
Both coaches have a mutual respect for each other and saw firsthand how effective each coach can be when Cactus and Higley squared off over the past few years. Belles said Ortiz is ready to step in to the Cactus community and continue to build the “tradition-laden” culture with the Cobras.
“He’s ready to deal with the challenges that face Cactus and where we’re at,” Belles said. “We’re one of the smallest teams in terms of population in 4A and that’s been a struggle. We’ve got to find a way, despite our numbers, to compete with some of the big boys in 4A, and I think him coming in will, if he’s given some time to do that, do a good job.”