MARICOPA — The first year of Arizona Interscholastic Association competition for the Sequoia Pathway football team was a stepping stone. Now, in the program’s second season in the AIA, the expectations are much higher.
Leading the Pumas is coach Donnie Margerum, whose apprenticeship as a coach included working as an assistant coach under Chris McDonald and then Brandon Harris at Maricopa High.
The Pumas went 4-2 in six regular season games in a pandemic-shortened 2020 season. They were No. 11 in the 2A power rankings and were set to play Morenci in a play-in round game of the 2A state playoffs but had to forfeit due to COVID-19 contracted within the program.
Despite the chaos of the 2020 season, Margerum told PinalCentral it was a good learning experience. The Pumas didn’t quite know what they were getting into when they came over from playing in the Canyon Athletic Association title game the previous year.
“It definitely was an eye opener … they came in a little cocky,” Margerum said of his players thinking the transition to AIA football would be easy. “I think they underestimated the competition in (Class 2A).”
That experience, Margerum added, humbled the players and also motivated them to work harder in the offseason.
But there’s another weapon in Margerum’s arsenal that will fuel Sequoia Pathway moving forward — transfers. And he landed a bevy of them, several from Pinal County programs such as Maricopa High and Vista Grande.
The Maricopa High transfers include three seniors: running back/linebacker Tyshaun Mooney, offensive tackle/defensive lineman Amari Turner and slot receiver Jeremiah Garcia.
Garcia made a significant impression during the summer, and Margerum is excited for his potential.
Seniors Michael Easley, Jeffery Earls and Maurice Orosco join the program from Vista Grande.
Easley is competing for starting quarterback, Earls will play on the offensive and defensive lines, and Orosco is a load of a defensive tackle at 5-foot-9 and more than 330 pounds.
Speaking of big guys, Raymond Sampaga comes over from Gilbert High as a 6-foot-5 offensive tackle at an athletic 280 pounds.
“He’s gonna be a problem once he’s on the field,” Margerum said. “He’s not a fat 280; he’s chiseled for a big boy.”
One caveat to all the transfers is — due to AIA bylaws — if any of them played varsity football last year, they have to sit for the first five games of the season. So several of these players won’t be eligible in the first five weeks of the season.
Starting in Week 6, which is Oct. 1 against Tucson Catalina, the Pumas will have their full complement of transfers available.
Having so many players want to leave their current school — and larger schools at that — speaks to an allure around the Sequoia Pathway program.
“I think we’re building something special here,” Margerum said. “The kids and the community definitely can see the growth and attention to detail we’re putting in the program. We’re really busting our butts here as a staff.”
The Pumas aren’t all about the transfers, though. They have returning players who will play a large role in the team’s success.
Jyrie Gamble, a senior, is a dynamic athlete who made big plays as a receiver last year, catching eight passes for 225 yards (28.1 yards per catch) and four touchdowns. He’s also competing for starting quarterback.
Margerum said the offense will definitely look different with him at QB due to his athleticism. But Margerum said Gamble is such a dangerous receiver that he has a tough decision ahead on where to play him.
The quarterback competition is a three-way race between Easley, Gamble and senior William Webber.
Then there are the Banks brothers — Norien and Kyrese. Norien had 17 tackles for a loss last season, while Kyrese added six. That was what they produced as freshmen.
Now sophomores, Margerum said they are each 6-2 and expected to grow to 6-7 at full height with a father who is 6-8.
Also returning is leading tackler Weston Klee, a linebacker who averaged nearly 10 tackles per game, and linebacker Curtis David. Margerum said Davis is looking really good so far.
It all adds up to some exciting prospects for the Pumas, who open the season Aug. 27 against Morenci — a top 10 team in 2A last season.
“We’re ready to put these helmets on, go out there and represent Maricopa,” Margerum said. “I think we should have a great season this year and try to taste some hardware.”