Gridiron Weekly: Physical play defines Sunnyside
South Tucson fans ready to embrace next Blue Devil team this fall
WEEKLY BLOG: 8/6/22
After learning the game of football and playing both high school and junior college ball in Southern Arizona, Thomas Romack is set to begin the new season as the leader of the Sunnyside program. He was promoted from the defensive coordinator position following the departure of Glenn Posey, who stepped down to spend time with family after his father passed away.
Much of last year's squad will be back as the Blue Devils graduated just 10 seniors from a team that went 6-4 to finish with a winning season for the first time since 2015.
Romack took the job in June and has had two months of the summer to work with the team leading up to the first official practices on Monday.
"The kids have been working so hard in the weight room, preparing for the season and becoming a team," Romack said in an e-mail interview. "Now, we are focused on getting in 'football shape' versus being in shape. I am excited to see how our changing of the culture of our football program will translate to the field and the classroom."
It is in the weight room that the foundation of the Sunnyside program has always been built. It's a proud tradition that began back in 1956 and includes state championships in 2001 and 2003.
"Through the weight room, we develop power, speed, and mental and physical toughness," Romack said. "We take pride in being more physical and tougher than our opponents. When you play us, you expect for it to be a physical game and a dog fight."
Romack, who was then known as "Tuff" Thomas Romack, played his high school ball at Buena HS in Sierra Vista and made the All-State team in his senior season (2012). After that, he played for Pima Community College under current Mica Mountain head coach Pat Nugent. In his sophomore year, Romack was ranked in the top 10 nationally for tackles and made the All-Conference team. He went on to Dakota State, an NAIA program in South Dakota.
"I was always considered to be 'too small' for the college level, so I had to watch more film, study, and understand the game more," Romack, who was listed at 6-1 and 215 pounds said. "I was given the nickname 'Ivy League" at Pima CC because I knew everyone's job and understood the game well. This experience has helped me immensely as a coach, because I have learned from so many different coaches with different philosophies and coaching styles."
Romack said he's been fortunate to have the staff that he has at SHS. The majority of the coaches have remained on and been willing to give all they can to the kids and the program.
"You don't get into coaching for the money," Romack said. "It's about helping kids and guiding them into becoming better fathers, co-workers, husbands, etc. The staff has been here together for four years and I feel very lucky to have them."
There is experience at quarterback as Deion Conde has been the varsity starter since his freshman year in 2019. He had 13 touchdown passes as a freshman and then 18 last season (Sunnyside played just one game in 2020). As a veteran, he is one the players look to for guidance.
"Deion has become a coach on the field and as a leader, he has really stepped up, especially vocally," Romack said. "His first couple years, he was quiet and led by example, which is fine. But his voice carries a lot of weight with the kids, so it is nice to see him stepping up."
Leading rusher Nycholas McDaniel was a senior last year who averaged more than 100 yards per game on the ground (821 yards in eight games). There will be a couple of players rotating in the backfield to replace him. One is Jose Ramirez, who was a starting linebacker last year. Romack said Ramirez is the front runner as of now.
"When you have a kid who cuts and moves like him that also squats 500 pounds, you want to get the ball in his hands," Romack said.
Another player Romack is excited about is Mekhi Gaskin, a senior wide receiver/safety, who has an offer to play for Doane College (Neb.).
"Mekhi works hard in all areas of his life," Romack said. "He is not just a leader on the field, but also in the classroom and weight room. The majority of our team is young (juniors and sophomores), but the seniors we have are leaders and set good examples and understand the expectations we have for them."
The Blue Devil defense allowed 19.3 points per game and chalked up 16 sacks and eight interceptions in nine games (one win was by forfeit).
Sunnyside remains in the 5A Sonoran, but some of the region foes have changed. The new region consists of Cholla, Flowing Wells, Marana, Nogales, and Rincon. None of the group made the playoffs in 2021 and only Marana finished with a winning record (7-3). The game on Oct. 21 at MHS could determine the region winner. The Tigers won last year's game in a wild shootout (36-35). The rest of the region opponents should be manageable. Including Marana, Sunnyside's five league opponents went 16-33 last year.
The schedule begins with a neutral site game against district rival Desert View on Thursday, Sept. 1 at the Kino Sports Complex in Tucson. The Blue Devils will then play on the road the next three games (Cactus Shadows, Canyon View, and Ironwood Ridge) and won't play a home game until Oct. 7. The delay in the home schedule is due to the installation of turf at the Blue Devils' stadium.