Mean Season

Page 9 of 10

"When I first came here, I was out at orientation, and I saw the team practicing," he says. "And I thought, 'That looks kinda fun.' I'm kind of a physical guy, so the next year I went out for the team. Now I've got the passion, I've got love for the game, but at the time I didn't really know much about it. I just wanted to be able to go out there and hit people."

With Woodard and Owens on the bench, the Spartans offense begins to falter. A fluky Safford touchdown on a tipped pass at the end of the first half turns what had been an evenly fought game into a 17-6 score.

In the locker room at halftime, Pat Taylor is fuming. Sensing that the Spartans have a chance to win, he's determined to push them to their limits. "This is the closest you've been to victory," he shouts. "Are you going to tuck your tail in and hide? Are you going to be happy that you scored one touchdown, or are you going to try to win? Do you want to pout for three hours on the way back again?

"Can't you tell that there's something different about this game?" Taylor asks. "What you're seeing is four weeks of frustration starting to pay off. You're starting to jell out there a little bit. You're starting to move the ball a little bit."

Reichenberger assures the Spartans that Safford is not a good second-half team, that they tend to get tired. Of course, the same could be said of the Spartans. A series of turnovers in the second half and some outrageously poor tackling turn the game into a blowout. Final score: Safford 37, Boys Ranch 6.

But, for at least a moment, the Spartans get a glimpse of the team they could be.

Gary Galante got out of the Boys Ranch before the football program hit the skids. Last May, he took a job as an assistant coach at Gilbert High School, where he's working under his father-in-law, Jesse Parker, a former Mesa Mountain View coach who returned to the Valley after four years in Texas.

You'd think that Galante would be relieved to have avoided the nightmarish season that the Spartans have experienced this year. But he sounds like he misses the Boys Ranch.

"There's multiple challenges in coaching with that population," he says, "but there's also multiple thrills. Most of those kids do not have the experience, or the know-how of what it takes to win, or what it takes to be a teammate. So that's the biggest challenge that I had when I was there. But seeing that happen is also very fulfilling, more sweet."

Galante recalls the frustration of coaching the Boys Ranch team last year and watching players get pulled out of the facility over the course of the season.

"We lost a lot of players, and the problem was they didn't pull them out all at the same time," he says. "We kept losing players as the season went on. Before the fourth game against Santa Cruz, they told me we were going to lose five offensive starters, a defensive lineman, and our kicker."

He says he didn't leave the Boys Ranch because of the shortage of players, but because of job security.

"Matter of fact, the challenges at the Boys Ranch are the kinds of things you strive for as a coach," he says. "I just had to make a choice for my family. And I didn't know if I was going to be around or not. There's no need for a football coach if you're not going to have a football team."

Maybe it's his team's tenacious effort, or maybe it's the homecoming spirit, but Pat Taylor is unusually calm at halftime of the Sahuarita game.

With the Spartans down 7-0, Taylor tells his defense, "Helluva job," but warns them not to let down in the second half.

In the third quarter, the homecoming spirit seems to affect even the Sahuarita cheerleaders, who temporarily move to the Boys Ranch side and begin doing cheers for the Spartans. It's a gesture of goodwill rarely seen in prep football. Not quite sure what to cheer, the squad forms a pyramid and starts chanting: "A-B-R."

As usual, the Spartans run out of gas in the second half, and the game gets out of hand. Sahuarita ends up with a 39-0 win.

Any other week, Pat Taylor would be exploding in the locker room after the game. Tonight, aside from a dig at "those knuckleheads" who were cheering for Andre Taylor to get in the game, he's fairly positive. He tells the team that at least they're improving.

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Gilbert Garcia
Contact: Gilbert Garcia