ELOY — The Santa Cruz Valley football team boasted one of the best rosters in the 2A conference last year. Led by former coach Rishard Davis, the Dust Devils breezed through the 2A conference tournament to win their first state championship in over 30 years.

With running back Hunter Ogle making his decision to head to Iowa to play with Division II school Simpson College, more of the Dust Devil seniors are accepting offers at the next level. Linebacker Mauricio Lopez recently committed to play Junior College football for the Gila River Hawks in the Hohokam Junior College Athletic Conference.

“It feels great to be going to the next level, I never thought that I would be able to play at the next level, so seeing that I surprised myself and being able to make it this far feels awesome.” Lopez said.

Lopez was one of the top defensive players for the Dust Devils last year, ranking third on the team in total tackles and tied for second on the team in tackles for loss.

One of the biggest influences on Lopez’s decision was coach Davis. To Lopez, his former coach is more than just a football coach, he sees him as a friend and as a mentor.

“He taught me a lot, he was such a big mentor for me, whether it was academics, football or even just life advice,” Lopez said. “I could talk to him about anything, he was a very big part of my life. We bonded over not only football, but he got me into lifting weights, which is something I love doing now. He got me into a lot of things that I would have never really expected to see myself in.”

Lopez will not be the only Santa Cruz Valley football player heading to the Gila River Hawks this year, as tight end and outside linebacker Orlando Davis Jr. will be joining his fellow former Dust Devil.

Davis was both an offensive and defensive threat for Santa Cruz, tallying 100 receiving yards and scoring two touchdowns for last year’s championship team, while also getting down on the defensive side of the ball. With 14 tackles and three interceptions on the year.

“I’m really happy that OJ is going to be there, not just because he is going to be on the same team, but a lot of us are able to continue to do something that we love.” Lopez said. “Guys like Hunter Ogle and Juan Castillo, they all got offers to go to the next level and do what they love. It makes me happy to see that we grew up playing the sport together, and even though we might be going our separate ways, we have the ability to keep playing football.”

Both Lopez and Davis will get the chance to suit and hit the field for the Gila River Hawks later this fall.

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