SCOTTSDALE – It was a casual offseason afternoon Friday at Saguaro High School.
Seventeen players on the school’s varsity football team were in the gym lifting weights. It wasn’t mandatory; head coach Jason Mohns had given his team the final two weeks of December off, but some players wanted to come in.
“I had kids blowing me up and texting me, saying, ‘Hey coach, can you open up the weight room?'” Mohns said.
This type of culture and work ethic, which Mohns described as “a blue-collar school with a tough mentality,” was born in the 1990s when Tim Beck was the head coach at Saguaro.
“That was started back in those days of Coach Beck and I think that’s what makes this place special,” Mohns said.
Now Ohio State’s co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, Beck is back in the Valley for the Buckeyes’ College Football Playoff Semifinal matchup Saturday with Clemson in the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl.
Beck arrived at Saguaro in 1993 to try to turn around a struggling program that had gone 5-43 in the five years before he arrived. In just his third season, the Sabercats won the first 4A state championship in school history.
“To see them develop to the young men that they became and to go on and win, to win a state championship, all that hard work and everything they believed in paid off,” Beck said.
Now, nine state championships later, Saguaro is one of the premiere football schools in the state.
The Saguaro job marked Beck’s first time in Arizona. He had been a graduate assistant at Kansas State and heard about the job opening through mutual friends of his and and the principal of Saguaro at the time, Herman Serignese.
“To have the opportunity to come through out here and (coach) in this beautiful state, that was awesome,” Beck said. “A dream come true at the time.”
Beck said he was hired because he was young and dynamic.
“(They wanted) somebody to bring some excitement and energy to the program and to be able to mold young men,” said Beck, who was 27 when he began coaching at Saguaro. “That’s part of why I coach, and why I do what I do.”
Beck left Saguaro after the 1995 season to become an assistant coach at Missouri State. He rose to offensive coordinator in 1998. He returned to the high school game in 1999 in Texas before accepting a job as Kansas’ wide receivers coach in 2005. He worked there until 2007, when his team scored the second-most points in the nation. He moved to Nebraska to work under Bo Pelini, first as running backs coach and then, from 2011 to 2014, as offensive coordinator and quarterback coach. After Pelini was dismissed at the end of the 2014 season, Beck, a Youngstown, Ohio, native, returned to his home state to join Urban Meyer’s Buckeye staff in January, 2015.
When asked about his coach, Buckeye quarterback J.T. Barrett only briefly mentioned how much Beck helps him on the field. Instead, the quarterback focused on his coach’s enjoyment of the game they share. He used the word “passionate” three times.
“He’s very passionate about the game of football,” Barrett said. “He loves his job, he loves the players that he coaches. I think he loves Ohio State.”
While Beck isn’t willing to take the credit for Saguaro’s success since his departure – he pointed out that there have been many coaches and many players to come through since – he said that he “maybe pushed the rock off the hill” with his 23-4 overall record and the school’s first championship.
Mohns calls Beck the “godfather” of a Saguaro football program that won its fourth straight state championship in November on the same field Beck’s Buckeyes will play on Saturday.
“Maybe if Coach Beck wasn’t here and didn’t have the success he had, this program continues to lose games (and) kids don’t want to be part of this,” he said.
Beck said that while he doesn’t return to the Valley much, he often receives emails and calls from former Saguaro players with updates on their lives.
“It makes you feel good that you were a part of molding those guys,” he said. “If you work really hard and do things the right way, you’re going to be successful … that’s what sticks with me all the time about that group.”