To Ironwood Ridge Nighthawks’ senior Tyler Williams, this isn’t just another football season. For the starting quarterback, it is the last he will play in a Nighthawks’ uniform, and the culmination of his years as an acting leader on the Ironwood Ridge team.
Williams fell into his leadership role naturally through the years by following his own high standards each and every time he steps onto the football field.
“I like to embrace the leadership role,” he said. “I feel comfortable there. I like it when guys look up to me.”
It’s tough not to look up to Williams, who finished the 2011 season with 836 passing yards and 1,043 rushing yards on offense, and nabbed two interceptions on the defensive end.
Fortunately for Williams and fourth-year Head Coach Matt Johnson, the Nighthawks are ripe with senior leadership this year, and the entire team unified with a single goal: win the Division II State Championship.
“We as seniors have been here on varsity before, and the coaches see us as leaders, and that’s what they expect of us, and more importantly, that’s what we expect of ourselves. We want to make a big run this year,” said Williams.
The team will have to accomplish the feat without last year’s star running back Mitch Fischer, who is now playing at Pima Community College.
“We’ll have to do it collectively,” said Williams. “One person won’t make up for Mitch not being here. We need to step up and play as one unit, and we will be able to take care of things just fine.”
Heading into the season opener against rival Canyon Del Oro High School, Williams said he likes how the team is looking.
“Our speed is going to be an asset,” he said. “We are a really smart team. We just plan on executing our offense, and minimizing mistakes, and more importantly, not repeating mistakes.”
In looking at next year, Williams has seen offers to play at Yale, ARMY, Air Force, San Diego State University, and Colorado, though he has still to determine which school he will select.
Though this is Cris Thorson’s first year as a Nighthawk, he brings with him an abundance of skill and leadership experience from his previous three years on the field as a Mountain View Mountain Lion.
Thorson, who thrived as a quarterback, wide receiver, cornerback, and safety at Mountain View, has brought his game knowledge and leadership abilities to the Nighthawks’ team after his parents moved into the Amphi School District. He will work closely with Tyler Williams in his new roles at slot receiver and cornerback.
So far, Thorson said he likes what he sees with the new program.
“The leadership is awesome here,” he said. “There are so many leaders on this team, and Coach Johnson is a very discipline-oriented coach who doesn’t let a lot of stuff fly that shouldn’t fly.”
Thorson said he hasn’t seen any resistance from the seasoned Ironwood players as he establishes his new role on the team. Likely, that is because of Thorson’s mentality of “do as I do,” instead of “do as I say.”
“I just came in and figured I’d lead by example more so than just telling people what to do,” he said. “It’s just about working hard and being encouraging to these guys.”
Overall, Thorson said the entire transition into his new school has been pretty seamless, though more time is committed to the football program- something he is happy to see.
“I like the new challenges that have come with the Ironwood program,” he said. “Our overall goal, as with any high school team, is to win state. We’re aiming to minimize mistakes and execute perfectly.”
Thorson received repeated recognition in 2011 for his ability to perform duties at numerous positions on the field.
Last September, he was awarded the Marine Corps “Warrior of the Week” after scoring three touchdowns and managing 195 yards of total offense against Desert View.
Thorson is looking into playing college football at either San Diego State University or at an Ivy League college still to be determined.