ELOY — The Santa Cruz Valley football program reached the top of the mountain last season as it won its first 2A state championship since the 1990 season, and although the team will be under a new head coach, the Dust Devils are still a favorite to win another state title.

The title defense all starts at 7 p.m. on Friday, with the Dust Devils competing in the season opener of the 2021-22 season on the road against Gilbert San Tan Charter.

Santa Cruz’s run game will once again be the thing that makes the offense tick. Although they will be without graduated senior Hunter Ogle, who rushed for over 2,000 yards last year, the team will be implementing a three-man committee at the half back position. With seniors Ricardo Alaniz, Wyatt Ogle and Steve Calvin making up the core.

Wyatt Ogle will be moving to the running back position after being the team’s starting quarterback for last year’s squad. The position change from quarterback to running back was a personal choice for Wyatt Ogle, with junior Max Rodriguez now taking over the signal caller role.

“Wyatt really wanted to move and play running back, I think he kind of realized that we needed a one, two, three punch with him, (Alaniz) and Steve Calvin.,” Santa Cruz coach James Fitzgerald said.

Rodriguez made only two passing attempts for last year’s squad, with his only completion last year resulting in a touchdown. Fitzgerald has a lot of high hopes for the new starting quarterback, saying that Rodriguez has made big leaps this year, both in maturity and in the weight room.

“Max has done everything that we have asked for and then some,” Fitzgerald said. “With him playing both linebacker and quarterback, he really sees the game well from both sides of the ball. The leadership ability that he has, has been incredible, and he is athletic too. He runs and moves well, and that’s a huge deal for us and our offense. Being able to make things a little bit more balanced this year has been great.”

Fitzgerald mentioned how the team is ready to hit the field for their first game against the Roadrunners, saying that it will be good for the team to play in the Phoenix area.

“We are really excited, this is what we have been waiting for and we have been counting down to this kickoff and really looking forward to this game,” Fitzgerald explained. “I think this will be a really good experience for our boys to go up to Gilbert. We’re just excited to get up there and defend the title.”

Friday Night Spotlight game of the week Santa Cruz Valley at San Tan Charter.

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David Church is a reporter covering Eloy, Arizona City and sports. He can be reached at dchurch@pinalcentral.com.