YUMA – Twenty miles north of the United States-Mexico border, the practice fields at Yuma Catholic are bouncing with energy as classic rock radiates from speakers. Despite a rag-tag roster of 38 kids, the Shamrocks are one of the most explosive teams in the state — and much of that is due to one arm.
As snowbirds and transplants descend on Arizona, the high school football scene continues to erupt. With the population boom, the state is producing exceptional quarterbacks who enter college as top prospects.
Spencer Rattler was the top quarterback of the 2019 class. Right now, Chandler’s Dylan Raiola is the top quarterback and overall player in the 2024 class.
But the best of them might be a little-known kid from Yuma.
Richard Stallworth, a Yuma Catholic senior, recently became the career leader in touchdown passes at any level of Arizona football in a 48-45 win over Buckeye. He is a mere 183 yards from overcoming Rattler as the state’s all-time passing yards leader, a record he can attain Friday in the Shamrocks’ home game against Northwest Christian. Stallworth already set the record for most passing yards in a single season in 2021 with 4,863, a record he won’t even be able to break.
“When someone told me, ‘Hey, Spencer Rattler’s record is within your reach,’ it’s a lightbulb that goes off in your head,” Stallworth said of the South Carolina quarterback. “Someone is always going to look up there and say, ‘Who passed Spencer Rattler?’ And it’ll be a kid from Yuma, Arizona. That’s a great feeling.”
Stallworth has been a part of Yuma Catholic since childhood. His father, Rhett, is the school’s principal and head coach of the football team. As a kid, Stallworth and his brother, Rocky, were always on the field with the team. Richard was destined to become a legend for the Shamrocks.
“The whole family grew up in football and grew up around the field,” Rhett said. “Babysitting was just turn them free on the field. See them mature and grow up and get their chance to play, and now he’s done so well and broken those records. It’s great to see.”
In this small school of 500 students, Rhett has built a dominating football program. After success at the 3A level, the AIA moved Yuma Catholic to 4A this year. Despite only 30 kids attending football practice on some days, the Shamrocks boast a 6-1 record.
Rhett and the Shamrocks have had several prolific passers walk through the halls. Gage Reese finished 2018 with the third-most passing yards in a single season in state history. He is third on the state’s all-time career passing yards list. Yuma Catholic has two more passers, Jagan Cleary and Matt Inman, in the top 20 for all-time passing yards. No school has more than one athlete in the top 20, and Yuma Catholic will have four once the final numbers are tallied for Stallworth.
When Richard entered his sophomore year and had the chance to become the starter, his father sat him down and said he couldn’t be only a little bit better than the next guy. As the son of the coach, he had to prove beyond any doubt that he deserved the job.
“(The coaching staff) felt that (Richard) always had a stronger arm, (and) we felt that he had a better ability to read defenses and get the ball into where it should be,” Rhett said. “I spent quite a bit of time having other coaches evaluate that process for me and say, ‘Hey, what are your opinions? Am I being a dad, or am I being a quality coach?’”
His teammates saw the potential in Richard then, too.
“He’s really smart on the field, he knows his reads,” senior fullback and linebacker Jarred Marquez said. “He throws the ball great (and) he has a nice arm.”
Marquez, who caught the record-breaking touchdown in that Oct. 14 victory over Buckeye, became familiar with Stallworth’s quarterbacking ability well before he became the starter sophomore year. The QB-WR combo formed in youth football and has continued at the next level.
“Coming into high school, I was always on Richard’s team,” Marquez said. “We always played together (and) were always friends. I feel like that has helped a lot. We’ve always had a connection on the field.”
Despite the records, the 6-foot-2 Stallworth is listed as a two-star quarterback on 247Sports. Being in Yuma has its drawbacks. A college recruiter can go to the Valley and visit all but three 6A schools. That’s not the case for schools located nearly 200 miles away.
Even at passing camps and competitions, it’s hard to get coaches to look Stallworth’s way. Some college coaches don’t regard 3A ball very highly. Junior defensive end Jaxson Jones is the first Yuma Catholic player since 2014 to receive a Division I offer after receiving offers from seven schools, including Washington on Sept. 13.
But with the Shamrocks moving up to 4A, the school has a chance to show recruiters how good its “Chosen Son” is. In recent years, Yuma Catholic beat up on 6A Yuma school Cibola 62-0 on Sept. 30. The Shamrocks also beat 4A teams Buckeye and Glendale 48-45 and 35-20, respectively in back-to-back weeks in October.
Rhett is optimistic about the program’s future when it comes to recruiting. He sees Richard’s success in 4A as a chance to show college coaches in search of talent that the trip to Yuma is worth it.
“(College coaches) just have to take a chance on a small-town kid,” Stallworth said. “It’s not always easy to take a chance on a kid from Yuma, but I know I can play. I know what I can do. I just have to show them throughout the season that I’m here to play. I think breaking those records will help put my name out there, and they will see it.”
Stallworth has tallied 31 touchdowns to nine interceptions while playing with a young, inexperienced receiving group this season after Yuma Catholic graduated all of its starting receivers last year.
No matter. Stallworth is on an absolute tear and sits on the cusp of history, but he’s more concerned with winning. He takes pride in being from Yuma and wants to bring a 4A championship down to the border.
“I’ve been to (the) state (championship) twice and didn’t get the outcome I want,” Richard said. “I could care less about those records, I just want to win a state title.”