Joe Ortiz saw an opportunity at Perry High School.
It was his chance to return to the
East Valley, where he spent several years as an assistant under Higley head football coach Eddy Zubey. It was his chance to make the jump to the 6A level after leading 4A Cactus in Peoria for four seasons.
Most importantly, it was his chance to lead one of the largest programs in the state at a school that has become a hotbed for athletic talent in recent years.
“Being here has been phenomenal,” said Ortiz, who was hired in January. “From the administration support, which is new to me, to the kids to the parents. Everyone has been so supportive and so great.”
Perry quickly rose to power in the 6A Conference under its first-ever coach Preston Jones. Jones led the Pumas to the postseason 11 times in the 13 years they were eligible for playoffs.
The team’s best stretch came in 2016-18, when it made the 6A Conference championship game three straight years led by quarterbacks Brock (2016-17) and Chubba Purdy (2018). Perry made it back to the playoffs in 2019 but fell in the quarterfinals. In 2020 Perry went winless. That was followed up by a 3-8 campaign in 2021.
Jones stepped down as head coach last season to spend more time with his family. He remains on campus as a teacher and has had several conversations with Ortiz about the program. Ortiz said that helped him transition to the school with ease. He knows if he ever has any questions, Jones is there to help.
“Coach Jones has been awesome with me, helping me out,” Ortiz said. “It wasn’t a forced-out situation. He retired on his own. He’s been super supportive. I could call him right now to ask him a question and he would answer.
“He told me this is my circus and I had to do what I had to do to run it. We talked about some traditions to maintain but other than that, he told me to just go at it and I had his full support.”
There wasn’t much Ortiz planned to change when he was hired to take over the Perry football program. He wanted to keep most, if not all, of the traditions established by Jones intact.
But what did change is the Pumas’ summer workout and practice routine. In year’s past, Perry stuck close to its vest. The team scrimmaged itself throughout the summer, electing not to partake in any 7 on 7 or big man competitions.
Like most coaches across the state, Ortiz doesn’t put too much stock into 7 on 7. But with the growth in the club circuit during the off-season, coaches have recognized how much players enjoy the competition. So, for the first time ever, Perry participated. The Pumas’ first-ever 7 on 7 competition came in late May at Mesa High School for the Gotta Believe Athletic Club’s High School Championships.
“You see 7s all over the place but knowing that you get to compete and be able to play at that level, it’s fun,” Snowden said. “We’re still playing football but not during the actual season. I think that was the most exciting part, the opportunity.”
Ortiz brings a new style the Puma players haven’t seen in year’s past. The previous staff had an old-school, no-nonsense approach. It was effective, as it led to success for many years.
But with Ortiz, he and his staff have taken a different approach and have their own unique style of coaching that meshes well with players. Most of his staff came from other programs and were head coaches at some point in their careers. One of the most notable additions was Scott Hare, who came over after stepping down at Mesquite where he won two state titles.
“It’s honestly like he brought together an All-Star squad of coaches,” senior star defensive end Aiden Herring said. “I mean, we have coaches from everywhere. We have coaches from Cactus, Mesquite, Corona del Sol, all of them have been really good to us.
“They’ve taught us stuff in a different way from the old staff and practices are running smooth. It’s going great.”
Perry spent the last week in Pinetop for its annual summer football camp. The players slept inside the gym at Blue Ridge High School. It was their chance to bond as a team and cap off a summer filled with progress.
Ortiz’s main goal is to take what Jones already established and rebuild it to the same level it was just a few years ago. He knows that could take time. But his players feel they’re ready to make that jump right away.
“I can’t wait,” Snowden said. “We are expecting a good season and a run in the playoffs. I’m confident we can do that.”
Along with championships, Ortiz’s long-term goal for Perry is simple. He aims to bring the football program to the same level as other athletic programs at the school and prove Perry is a viable option for incoming freshmen football players.
He believes he is on his way to doing that.
“Perry is good at all sports,” Ortiz said. Six state championships this past year in other sports and multiple semifinal appearances with that. There’s no reason football can’t be at that same level.”