For many high school athletes, summer vacation is a myth. From casual workouts to full-blown practices, they are out there getting ready for the fall season.
The Pahrump Valley High School football team is no different. The Trojans have been out on the field early, necessary in the desert heat, going through drills and running scrimmage plays in preparation for the new season, which begins in less than a month.
After a week off for the Fourth of July holiday, coach Joe Clayton and his staff spent a week with the players practicing in full pads before heading up to Cedar City, Utah, for an intense week at Southern Utah University. Clayton said the Monday practice was a bit lackluster, but the Trojans came back stronger Tuesday.
“Yesterday was tough because it was the first day of pads,” Clayton said. “And it was the first day of pads after the Fourth of July week off, and it showed. Today they picked it up, much better, a lot better energy.”
With a soundtrack of mostly 80s rock in the background, the coaches were always on top of their players, offering encouragement, help with technique and, occasionally, a verbal kick in the behind.
“Start pushing yourselves.”
The first part of practice is devoted to stretching. Staying hydrated and being properly warmed up are critical to any practice, but especially on a July day when the humidity is a bit higher than usual. The coaches can be heard easily over Van Halen’s “Panama,” making sure the players don’t treat stretching as relaxation time.
After a quick drink at 7:30 — it has to be quick; the dangers of drinking too much water during a workout require more of what the coaches call a “rinse” — the players break up into groups, with each coach leading a set of drills. While some can be heard more easily than others, at times all of them can be heard giving players feedback after each repetition. This is a veteran team, and many of them know exactly what is expected.
“We’re very experienced as far as offensive line and skill guys coming back who have run this offense for a few years,” Clayton said. “Defensively, they’re doing the same thing. They’re just stepping right up.”
“Stay focused even when you’re tired.”
Some of the instructions get repeated frequently. The need to keep focus is one, as fatigue is not considered an excuse for sloppy execution. There are also constant reminders to get their helmets on as soon as they get on the field and not to take out their mouthpieces until they are on the sideline.
Some of the drills are more fun than others, but the players are urged to approach each one with the same levels of focus and intensity. And for the most part, they do, although an occasional “Where are your eyes at?” can be heard across the field.
The Trojans are coming off a 4-6 season which included a playoff appearance. But several of the teams on that schedule — including all three they lost to in a 2-3 Class 3A Sunset campaign — will not be opponents this season. So there is an air of uncertainty tinged with optimism as this year’s group points toward the Aug. 17 opener.
Meanwhile, assistant coach Fred Schmidt is done with his group and looks toward Clayton for the signal to send his players to the next station. The head coach is not yet ready to dispatch his group and tells Schmidt, “Hey, there’s a lot of teaching going on here.”
And there is.
“Respect the finish. I don’t care how hard you hit him, you’ve got to bring him down.”
In the last rotation of drills before the practice turns toward a scrimmage — most players’ favorite part of the morning — Clayton sees his blockers going a little too far.
“Do not practice holding,” he calls out, reminding them that a hold would negate a positive play and send the team back 10 yards. But the occasional hold aside, Clayton said the coaches are happy with where the team is at.
“We’re very pleased,” he said. “We moved a couple of guys around to fill different positions, but we’re very pleased at this point in the summer that we’re where we should be.”
One thing the coaching staff has little control over is numbers. There is both good news and bad news in that area.
“We’re really excited about the sophomore class,” Clayton said. “They’ve got a large number of football players, and sometimes we kind of battle with the numbers we have in each class. They have a good, solid number of kids and they’re a pretty talented group, so we’re really excited right now with both the JV and the varsity.
“We don’t have that many freshmen, so we’re a little disappointed there. We’re happy if we get 25 per class and get about 100 in the program. This is probably the lightest we’ve been. We’re mid-60s right now, and that’s cutting it pretty close, and it’s mostly because of the small freshman class.”
That will become obvious when they go into scrimmage mode. The freshmen are sent to one end of the field while the rest of the team assembles near midfield, players on defense wearing yellow vests, as Axl Rose screeches out the lyrics to “Paradise City.”
“We’re ALWAYS attacking the football when it’s in the air. Always attacking.”
For a team that had a starting quarterback complete a grand total of six passes all season a year ago, it seems logical that the defense is the focus as most of the plays involve passing. And several defenders look to be in game-night mode, with some nice interceptions among the completed passes.
On one play, a Trojan defender stretches for a pickoff and heads in the other direction. While the play is stopped by the whistle, he would have had a clear path to the end zone if it was an actual game, something that didn’t generate the enthusiasm the coaches were seeking.
“That should excite you guys,” one of them barked. “We need more pick-sixes.”
After every play, Clayton is talking to somebody on the defense and offensive coordinator Craig Rieger is talking to somebody on the offense. The pattern of run a play, coach, run a play, coach is only interrupted by different players coming in for their share of repetitions.
“As a staff, we’ve now been together for six years,” Clayton said. “Not only are we more experienced as a staff in making the modifications we have to make offensively and defensively, but the kids are more experienced, and they’ve been with us.”
“Nobody cares how tired you are right now. Suck it up.”
Practice ends with a series of sprints in descending distances. Linemen start at 30 yards, the rest start at 60. Then it goes to 20 and 40 and finally 10 and 20.
Just because the practice is winding down does not mean the players can treat it that way. Coaches keep an eye out for who might be lagging behind on the sprints and point out to some of them who is beating them up the field.
Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet Ride” must have seemed a little cruel to players running sprints while wearing pads after a couple of hours of football practice — in full pads, it’s always the heat of the day — but calls of “Don’t fall back” and “He’s beating you on every one” push them until the end.
The players then gather around Clayton for a few final words, largely very encouraging ones, before they head inside to lift. Even heading off the field, being lazy is not permitted.
“Don’t be the last guy in the weight room.”
“We’ve kind of learned from some strength and conditioning guys,” Clayton explained. “Summer usually isn’t a conditioning time. You can get somebody off the couch and get them in decent shape in two weeks. But we’re conditioning this week is because we know that that camp is a trying week next week. So we’re kind of conditioning this week more, and at the same time getting them used to their equipment. This week and next is the only time we’re going to have them in equipment until the season starts.”
And they will have challenging days during their week at Southern Utah.
“When we go to camp, we’ve got a scrimmage in the morning and a scrimmage in the afternoon every day with some pretty tough football teams out of Utah, Idaho, Arizona. We don’t expect them to be in excellent shape, but we expect them to be in pretty good shape to be able to compete at the camp.”
Pahrump Valley opens against Lowry on Aug. 17 in Winnemucca. The first home game will be Aug. 24 against Virgin Valley.
Contact Sports Editor Tom Rysinski at email@example.com On Twitter:@pvtimes