HEBER — Best way to win a football state championship this season is to forget about last season’s accomplishment.
So goes the thinking for Mogollon and coach Richard Samon, who guided the Mustangs to a 9-0 record and the 1A state title in 2020.
The Mustangs are in their second week of official practices, but most of the team has been busy since June 1 in one form or another with the mindset of repeating, while not reflecting, as state champions.
“There’s always going to be people gunning for you especially now because we’ve won,” said cousins and team co-captains Malaki and Fisher Porter in a joint interview.
Along with Malaki’s twin brother, Cael, the Porter trio also won state wrestling titles in March so there’s a palpable championship attitude among the Mustangs.
“Everyone’s going to want to take us down so we got to keep our heads cool and work hard. Now we’ve shown people what we can do when we work hard so we just have to keep that up and continue working,” according to the Porters.
As for Samon, who’s been part of the Mustangs coaching staff since 1999 and took the reins as head coach last season, he’s in a peculiar spot as he prepares for the 2021 season.
“I try not to take it away from them that they won, but when a season restarts itself it’s almost like the clock ran out and it’s time to reset and start again,” Samon said. “You can’t win this season based on what you did last year. Did I improve? Did I work harder?”
The seniors think the same way, and humility is sort of a team theme, Samon said.
“I met with the seniors Friday night,” he said at Monday’s practice. “They alluded that’s the direction they want to go. They didn’t know how the word humility fit in to that because it didn’t sound like a football term. Once I heard what they were asking for, that humility, to be willing to bring other players up because we have some sophomore and some juniors that are developing and have the humility (to say) ‘hey I was a state champion last year but I can still help you and you’re going to help me in the future. If I go down you’re going to be my backup.’
“We’re working as a team to have some coherency where everybody on the team, from the seniors down, have a focus that (says) ‘my job is important, I should have a willingness to want to be a part of the program because the guys at the top care about me and the guys in the middle care about me and vice versa.’
“It’s a learning behavior but it’s something I feel is really necessary because kids get caught up in how great they are and they don’t realize that the kid next to them made them great and the kid over there made them great. They didn’t do it on their own. Building that team camaraderie to understand what team means, that we play together, we lift each other up,” Samon said.
Samon believes the Mustangs will be a power again based on several senior and junior returning starters from the championship team.
He referenced the three Porters in addition to Tyler Owens, Edy Corrales and Braxton Owens, also seniors, and juniors Payton Reidhead, Blayk Kelton, Trextan Reidhead and Landon Stephens.
“Cael Porter will be the quarterback,” Samon said. “He replaced Caden Owens last year when Caden was injured and that’s how he got a lot of reps. Bringing him in as quarterback this year won’t be a big transition because he already had an opportunity to play a number of games.”
Malaki Porter shifts from running back to fullback this season, while Reidhead and Kelton will share running back carries.
“It’s really an easy transition for us and that’s why we’re confident that we’ll be OK, that we’ll be back in the state game because of the personnel that we’re bringing back,” Samon said.
The Mustangs will open the season at 7 p.m. on Aug. 20 with a road game at Tempe Prep. Their second and third games are at home against Winkelman Hayden and Superior, respectively.