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Mauldin has Rams going for third win
Antelope Superintendent Dr. Andy Smith said he couldn’t believe it.
While searching for the Rams’ vacant football coach position this summer, he happened to get an application from a two-time state champion, two-time state runner-up coach.
Around three hours after a phone interview in June, Smith offered the job to Gary Mauldin.
“He’s a good fit because he’s a good teacher,” Smith said. “They want to play football for somebody who’s knowledgeable and organized, that builds trust. He knows what it takes to build this program.”
“I came out here, fell in love with the school and took the job,” said Mauldin.
Coming into tonight’s game against Veritas Prep at 7 p.m. in Wellton, Mauldin has the Rams going for their third win in four weeks. By comparison, Antelope had three wins in the past two seasons combined. Mauldin takes the reins of a struggling Antelope program with a history of winning. In his four years at Elfrida-Valley Union, the Blue Devils won the state championship in 1985 and 1986. A few years later, Mauldin sent Show Low to the state championship game in 1989 and 1993 before ending up as the head coach at Chaparral for a year and Thunderbird for a decade.
“He’s a great coach,” senior quarterback Beto Castro said. “He really knows what he’s doing.”
Mauldin takes over a young Rams team with five seniors, four of which – Castro, running back Cesar Meza, linebacker Luis Saboria and Rayden Baker – are captains. So why does somebody with a resume like Mauldin decide to take over for a rebuilding team like Antelope?
“The love of small-school football,” said Mauldin, who went to Benson High School. “It’s all really new (at Antelope) but it’s beautiful country out here, and the staff and faculty havemade me feel so welcome out here. I tell them I feel like I’ve been here 10 years.”
And he doesn’t plan to leave anytime soon.
“I have no place to go,” he said. “I’ve been at the big schools. I have no desire to go back to the big schools. I’m willing to hang around here as long as Antelope will let me.”
He said there were certainly some obstacles taking the job. Since he was hired so late, the Rams didn’t have a chance to play spring ball or passing league. Considering many of the players live in towns all over the area, an activity bus is needed so practices are cut short – even if there are some things Mauldin would like to work on.
Regardless, Antelope has a winning record heading into Week 4 and has more wins than all the Yuma Union High School District teams combined.
“It’s helping us gain confidence, it’s helping us gain momentum and we’re learning each week and getting better each week,” Mauldin said.
However, the schedule gets so difficult after this week that Mauldin can’t help but let out a belly laugh when it’s brought up. The following week, the Rams host Kofa, which last year had an enrollment more than seven times as big as Antelope. Four of the remaining five games come against teams who all made the playoffs last season, including No. 11 Bourgade Catholic, No. 5 Yuma Catholic, No. 3 Arizona Lutheran and No. 2 Northwest Christian, which is the defending Division V state champion.
One of Mauldin’s former assistants at Thunderbird is coaching at Scottsdale Christian, and he texted the Antelope coach asking how he sleeps at night with such a brutal end of the schedule.
“I texted him back and said ‘I sleep like a baby,’” Mauldin said. “He goes, ‘Yeah?’ I say, ‘Yeah, every three hours I wake up and I cry.’ It’s bad, but we’ll survive.”
But Mauldin has taught his Rams to respect every opponent, but fear no opponent.
“I don’t think they fear anyone,” he said. “It’s just sometimes we don’t have the depth that other teams have at this time. We’re going to try to line up and play 48 minutes as hard as we could.”