The Scottsdale Community College football team is amid a complete turnaround from 2016 and a lot of that improvement hinges on what’s happened off the field.
The Fighting Artichokes are 6–1 and ranked 12th in the National Junior College Athletic Association poll as of Thursday, Oct. 19 heading into the bye week, which is already a stark improvement from last year’s one-win team.
The official record says 2–8 but that’s because one school had to forfeit its win over SCC after the fact.
Regardless, the Fighting Artichokes are on pace to have one of its better years since 2011 and it’s doing that with many players from last year.
While statistics show some improvements on the field, such as an improved passing game, Head Coach Doug Madoski said he thinks the team’s chemistry is what has made the biggest difference.
With the team coming closer together, a level of trust started to blossom, Coach Madoski said, as players see fellow teammates put in work. He said this eliminates questions of work ethic between players and leads to a tighter-knit team.
“We’ve always said the group that comes together and stays together is going to have more success,” Coach Madoski said in an Oct. 18 interview.
Rising from the ashes
Of the team’s eight losses last year, four of them were within seven points. Some of those losses were by two or three points.
Sophomore linebacker Bozton Sanders, who was a part of last year’s team, said while last year’s team was talented, it didn’t have as much trust.
He said there were drives that could’ve led to a win but players didn’t rely on each other because some players had what he called a “selfish mindset.”
“This year’s really different because we’re all in,” he said in an Oct. 18 interview. “Everyone’s in. Everyone wants to make a play. Everyone wants to do their part. Everyone wants to do something to help the team.”
Part of the growth to being “all in” came because of last year’s shortcomings, Coach Madoski said.
A mindset started to develop, he said, around the team that led some players to believe if they just showed up then they would win.
This mindset came from past successes prior to 2016, he said. SCC has had winning seasons dating back to 2011.
Coach Madoski said he thinks the returning sophomores came to a realization that success wasn’t going to be easy but they would have to work if they wanted to turn it around.
“I think that’s where they really changed it,” he said. “They’ve just grown as people.”
This growth is exemplified in Sanders.
He said he had never lost that many football games in a season during his career of football, including youth leagues.
This caused Sanders to question his love for the game a bit, he said. However, he didn’t dwell on those thoughts, he said, but rather used those feelings as a motivating factor.
Sanders said going through a losing stretch like 2016 and returning the next year shows who really is committed to the game and getting better.
With the sophomores back with a reignited fire to play, they also move into leadership roles.
As freshmen, Sanders said he and his teammates had to learn on the fly how to be leaders because there weren’t as many sophomores last year who were leaders.
Now as a leader, he said he tries to be encouraging and working with his team.
“I love helping other kids be successful,” Sanders said. “You never know, you might go down and your backup needs to know what he needs to do. I just try to do my part, have a great positive attitude and just be me.”
A new generation
While the sophomores learned lessons from losing in 2016, the other half of the team wasn’t around for that season.
The responsibility fell to the sophomores to help integrate the incoming freshmen into the program and help make it better.
Receiver Devin Neal, who leads the team in receiving yards, is one of several freshmen making impacts on the team’s on-field production.
Neal said when he got to SCC, a lot of the sophomores kept talking about a national championship and how the ultimate goal was to win one.
“Coming in and hearing that everyday, it’s instilled in your head that you must win,” he said in an Oct. 18 interview. “If you want to win, if you want to be on this team, you’ve got to have that winning mentality.”
This mentality wasn’t just limited to just the summer. He heard that goal constantly throughout spring practices and into the fall.
Not only do the sophomores instill this mentality, Neal said, but they also are good motivators and good communicators. He said every day, the leaders are trying to pump up the team with positivity and a sense of improvement.
“Hearing that from older guys, guys who have been in a losing season and have come back to doing what they’re doing now, it’s incredible,” he said.
Although some credit can lie with the sophomore leaders, Coach Madoski said he thinks credit should also go to those freshmen as well.
He said the transition of the freshmen into the team has been seamless because of the willingness of the sophomores to want to put the best team out on the field.
“They recognize that good players should play so it’s been relatively easy for (the freshmen) and I think part of that is they’re really good football players,” he said. “I think you respect guys out there who work hard and that can play.”
Coming out of the bye week, SCC will have a rematch with Mesa Community College. The Fighting Artichokes beat the Thunderbirds 38–28 on Saturday, Sept. 30.
After Mesa comes Snow College out of Utah, which ranks 11th in the NJCAA polls. SCC will close out its season against second-ranked Arizona Western.
Despite how the 2016 season turned out, Coach Madoski said the team is right where he thought they would end up although he would have liked to be undefeated.
Still, Coach Madoski said he is looking forward and plans to finish out the season one game at a time.
“I don’t know where the thing shakes out,” he said. “I know we got a tough three-game stretch ahead of us. If we can hold it together and get past Mesa then we’ll worry about Snow after that.”