Cactus football

Among Cactus football’s strengths this season could be depth on the offensive and defensive lines. (Photos by Eric Newman)

Cactus High football held its spring practices in May, and the Cobra players and coaches were excited to finally take the field again in hopes of a successful summer and regular season in the fall.

With a full season under coach Joseph Ortiz’s belt, having gone 8-4 in 2018, the team seems to have fully taken on his identity as their leader.

“There’s no more transition state anymore,” he said.

The Cobras are expecting solid production from both the offensive and defensive lines this season. Ortiz said around 20 linemen have attended spring practices, far more than the Cobras have boasted in years past.

Barring injury, three of the five starting offensive linemen from last season’s team should return to the lineup in the 2019 season. So, rising senior Travis Combs said the run game could be among the best in the state. He was one of the linemen who made the switch to the position late into last offseason. There was a learning period, but now with the returning starters and several other big bodies to fill the open spots, the goal is perfection rather than learning the basics.

“We kind of know exactly what we need to do. It’s not that same learning process of trying to figure out everything. Now it’s just trying to get better at what we already know,” Combs said.

Before the regular season kicks off in August, the Cobras will practice all summer, including participation on seven-on-seven passing tournaments and lineman competitions throughout the state. Wins in these events not only could give the Cactus players some confidence going into the season, but the competitions will also serve as a proving ground for wide receivers.

Cactus graduated several of its best pass catchers from last year, and the team has a lot of players vying for playing time among the new receiving corps. Touchdowns and long catches from returning quarterback Conner Cordts will go a long way in impressing the coaching staff.

“We go four-wide so much, so we’re going to see what happens in seven-on-seven and all the stuff in the summer. Our quarterback coming back is really good, so we’ll be able to put them in a good spot and see who steps up,” Ortiz said.

Cactus’s 8-4 record netted the team a No. 7 seed in the 2018 AIA Football 4A State Championship. Each of the team’s four losses came to the top four teams in the conference, including a 69-6 loss to eventual-champion Saguaro High in the quarterfinals.

Combs said the goal is to get back to the playoffs again, and advance even further. Rather than let the blowout loss dampen their spirits, the Cobras will return to the field in 2019 with championship hopes.

“We were kind of embarrassed,” Combs said. “It just made us work harder, I think, because we can’t let that happen again.”