IFL Spotlight: Tucson Sugar Skulls
By: Adam Pasquale Jr.
December 3, 2020
WORCESTER, MA. — Next in line for the Massachusetts Pirates’ IFL spotlight is the Tucson Sugar Skulls. The team was founded in 2018 and is one of three IFL teams in the state of Arizona. In 2019, their first season of action, the Sugar Skulls found great success and became the first expansion team in IFL history to make the postseason in their inaugural season.
Tucson’s season came to an unfortunate end after losing to the Sioux Falls Storm 50-47 in the first round of the playoffs. However, the success should continue as star running back Mike Jones has confirmed he will be back for another run at a title in 2021. The All-IFL running back led the league with 711 rushing yards and 25 rushing touchdowns in his rookie season in 2019. Jones also received All-IFL first team honors following his breakout year.
The Sugar Skulls made a huge splash in free agency this offseason, signing 2019 IFL Offensive Player of the Year E.J. Hilliard. Coming over from the Quad City Steamwheelers, Hilliard led all IFL quarterbacks in passing yards and finished second in touchdown passes in 2019.
The organization has also brought back a familiar face to the Tucson community. Defensive back Cam Gaddis, who played high school football and two years of JUCO football in the Tucson area, has been re-signed. Gaddis finished second in interceptions on the Sugar Skulls defense in 2019.
The team is led by head coach Dixie Wooten, who was originally signed for the 2020 season. A two-time IFL Coach of the Year (2017-18) with the Barnstormers, Wooten had a 36-8 regular-season record in three seasons with Iowa. He also reached the postseason every year during his tenure and led the Barnstormers to their first United Bowl championship in 2018.
Wooten had a chance to speak with masspiratesfootball.com about preparing for next season.
“This whole year, I have been going through notes to get our guys ready for all the new teams in the league. I think we can win a championship. We have a great coaching staff and have talent at key positions.”
Wooten spoke further on his championship pedigree and believes Tucson has everything in place to win a title next August.
“The experience of winning a championship is something you can’t buy, it’s earned. Players have to buy in and it’s a day to day grind. With my experience, we can shorten the championship curve for our players.”
The Sugar Skulls are owned by Cathy Guy, who has strong ties in professional indoor football. Her husband Kevin is the head coach and team president of the Arizona Rattlers. He also has an ownership stake in the Sugar Skulls. When asked about her team going head-to-head against the Rattlers, Cathy Guy says it comes down to a game of two head coaches.
“On the field, it’s two head coaches against each other. Dixie (Wooten) has done well against Kevin (Guy) previously. I believe on any given day, any team can beat another team.”
Guy also touched on the Sugar Skulls-Rattlers rivalry. She says before the Sugar Skulls became a team, Tucson residents would drive to Phoenix to see the Rattlers play. And now, just one season into being a professional football organization, Sugar Skulls fans are passionate and hard core for their new team.
Massachusetts Pirates founder and president Jawad Yatim sees Tucson as a true test for the Pirates.
“Like us they are a young organization but have a great leadership presence in the Guy family. Obviously Kevin has been doing this for a long time and he’s one of the greatest minds in the game, so they’ll be a very competitive and successful brand for many years to come. Their head coach is very accomplished as well, just recently winning an IFL championship and having been named IFL head coach of the year before. They have a lot of positive things going for them and we’re looking forward to heading out to Tucson this season and competing against a great ball club, it should be an entertaining one for the fans.”
The city of Tucson also has a large Hispanic community, and this past November, the Sugar Skulls participated in All Souls Procession, which celebrates the Day of the Dead holiday. At the event, members of the organization took part in painting their faces and celebrated loved ones who have passed away. Incredibly, more than 150,000 individuals join the procession every year. The event also helped inspire the team name for the Sugar Skulls and Guy says events like these give her organization more experiences to put more events in place for the Tucson community.
It’s rare to see an expansion team find this kind of success on and off the field this early in its history. From ownership, to the coaching staff and trickling down to the players, Tucson is building strong roots as a professional indoor football team.
The Massachusetts Pirates are set to battle the Sugar Skulls in Week 9 on Sunday, May 30th at 3:05 PM/MT at the Tucson Arena in Tucson, Arizona.
The Massachusetts Pirates are members of the Indoor Football League (IFL). The Pirates play all home games at the DCU Center located at 50 Foster St. Worcester, MA. 01608. For more information on the Massachusetts Pirates please call (508) 452-MASS (6277), email email@example.com or visit http://www.masspiratesfootball.com. Single-game tickets are available online at ticketmaster.com or the DCU Center Box Office. For season, half-season, luxury, or group ticket packages please call 508-452-MASS (6277). Follow the Pirates on Facebook via Facebook.com/MAPirates, Instagram @mass.pirates, and Twitter @mass_pirates. #GetHooked #AllAboard