ELOY — The spring season has been a been a struggle for the Santa Cruz Valley track and field program in more ways than one.

Last year’s season was canceled due to the pandemic, and then over the summer, funding for the program was cut as the district needed to adjust its yearly budget to make ends meet following an override that was not approved by voters.

Without any funding, the district left it up to the coaches if they could volunteer their time in order to keep the program going.

While Tad Roberts has stepped in to fill the coaching vacancy, the Dust Devils’ participation numbers have dropped dramatically, as there are only seven athletes participating in this year’s season.

Three Dust Devils have already qualified for the state meet, and leading the way is Dylan Hukill, who has qualified in four events: the 100 meters, 200 meters, javelin and long jump.

“My parents and my coach they expected it out of me, but I was really happy to know that I was already getting there, and I didn’t have to worry about pushing myself all the way to the end of the season trying to get to state,” Hukill said.

His main goal to start the season was to get his running time down in preparation for his college career.

Hukill also played football and basketball for the Dust Devils, and he signed with Park University in Gilbert on Sunday to join the track and field team.

“I’ve always loved football but my sophomore year I came out for track and my times weren’t the best, but I still dominated on the team and I just fell in love with track, running and competing,” he said. “It just has a high level of competitiveness for me, so I just [stayed] with track and now I’m getting scholarship offers and going to college for it.”

Roberts said with the right coach, Hukill can become a decathlete.

“He can do everything that you ask him to do,” Roberts said. “The javelin, the discus, the shot, the long jump. All he has to do is learn how to run the mile, that’s it. The hurdles will come easy because you don’t have to win those, you just have to [finish] second or third and you get points. He’s never going to give up so whoever’s in front of him, they’re in trouble.”

Hukill has won a medal in at least one of the four events in three invitationals this season. Last weekend he took first place in the long jump, second in the 100 meters and third in the javelin at the Al Nelson Invitational at Valley Christian High School in Chandler.

On April 9, he placed third in the 200 meters at the Marana Invitational, and on March 30 he had a special moment at the Phoenix Christian Invitational, where he took second in the 200 meters and third in the 100 meters and the long jump.

“After a meet his eyes were all watery and I asked him what’s going on, son?” Roberts said. “He said coach, I’ve never gotten medals before.”

Santa Cruz has participated in track meets with many schools from other divisions, and Roberts said Hukill was disappointed he didn’t medal in his events.

“I said Dylan, you’re the best in our division right now,” Roberts said. “You build up to the state, you don’t have to win at these meets right now, let’s build up to get to state. Every time that he runs the 100 or the 200, he’s doing better and better ... I told him just go out there and continue to do what you’re doing, and you will do really well.”

Hukill originally began running track after football coach Rishard Davis suggested it would help him on the football field. Hukill admitted he hated it at first because of all the training that goes into running and preparing for the field events.

Former Santa Cruz track coach Thomas Paredes always made sure his athletes competed in many events to try to build up the team’s final score.

“I wasn’t very good at javelin, but now I’ve improved and grown,” Hukill said. “It keeps me busy during a track meet so I’m not sitting in the sun the whole time waiting.”

Out of all the events he competes in, Hukill enjoys the 100 meters race the most because of the high level of competitiveness, and it’s also the event in which he’s had the most success.

“I’m impressed with his attitude and his overall behavior,” Roberts said. “He has not missed a practice, and he represents his school in a positive manner. Wherever he goes for college, he’s going to represent that community really well because his academics are outstanding, and his overall behavior is outstanding. Any coach that gets this kid is going to get a champion.”

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Maria Vasquez is a reporter covering Eloy, Arizona City and sports. She can be reached at mvasquez@pinalcentral.com.