These days, the first thing you do when you visit a Pahrump Valley High School football practice is count the number of healthy bodies going at full strength.
It doesn’t take long.
As junior running back Tony Margiotta prepares to make his return tonight at Cheyenne, classmates Jalen Denton and Dylan Wright appear to be sidelined, although Wright believes there’s a chance he can play.
“As soon as we get somebody healthy, somebody goes out,” Trojans coach Joe Clayton said. “Jalen’s got something to do with his shoulder where he’s having a hard time moving his arm, and then Dylan is going to get an MRI for his knee (Thursday), so it’s not looking good for either one of them for Friday night.”
Wright indicated he might be available against the Desert Shields, but Clayton is not optimistic.
“He hasn’t practiced for a couple of days, and the possibility is not really good,” he said. And if Wright can’t play, it’s a significant hit for the Pahrump Valley defense.
“Because of what we do offensively, we can always fill in with certain guys,” Clayton said. “We’re never hurt as much by injuries offensively, but you’re asking for guys defensively to defend against a lot of speed in the open field. When we lose key guys on defense, and you’re filling in with backup guys that aren’t real comfortable and strong defensively, it shows.
“It’s worse now losing Jalen and Dylan, who are two starting defenders. Dylan hits, and he’s a good open-field tackler, so it’s a hit defensively.”
Clayton knows the best way to help a patchwork defense last is to keep it off the field with the kind of offense the Trojans like to run, and Margiotta’s return helps that cause.
“Tony obviously is a big lift for everybody,” Clayton said. “Everybody knows the amount of time he’s put in. The bye week gave him the extra time needed to be 100 percent. He conditioned really hard this week.”
Margiotta, expected to be the team’s primary ball carrier, rushed for 126 yards in the opener against Lowry before going down with a knee injury against Virgin Valley. Despite missing three-plus games, Margiotta is just 19 yards behind the team’s leading rusher, Andrew Avena, who has 200.
“Obviously, he hasn’t had the football game conditioning, so we’re hoping he has the lungs to go four quarters,” Clayton added. “He’s going to get the rock a lot, and we’re going to bank on him carrying the ball and giving us a little boost offensively.”
That’s just fine with Margiotta, who was ready to get back on the field from the moment he was helped to his feet on the field in Mesquite.
“I’m feeling good, ready to play,” Margiotta said. “My knee’s ready to play. I can cut well on it, I’ve been sprinting fully on it, and I’m ready to go.”
That the team’s rushing workload has been divided among several players is reflected in the fact Margiotta is still second on the team in carries with 33, 10 behind senior Kody Peugh, who was lost to injury in the Coronado game. Avena, Kenny Delker, Wright, Denton and Fabian Soriano each have at least 10 carries this season for the Trojans, who are averaging 206 rushing yards per game.
Margiotta was wearing a brace on his left knee and said he will have to wear it during games.
“I’m wearing an MCL brace, and it has two metal pieces on each side of it so it doesn’t bend inward or outward,” he explained. “Pain-wise, I’m great.”
Clayton said the team remains confident despite the constant visits from the trainer.
“There’s not much you can do about it, so we just move on,” he said. “It’s that much more important that we tell the boys how crucial it is that the rest of them step up every play, do their job and be physical, and good things will happen eventually.
“They’ve just got to keep believing.”
The charismatic Margiotta certainly believes.
“It’s going to be some ironman football,” he said of a Trojans team likely to dress just 21 players tonight in North Las Vegas. “We’re working more as a team this year, so I think we can get it done.”