Ordinarily, the high school football season would have kicked off by now and area fields would be bustling on Friday nights. But the fields are quiet, because New Mexico is among the 16 states in the country that have postponed high school football until 2021 due to Covid-19.
Even though high school football is a no-go this fall, Marino Rivera-Noblitt said he still goes to the Estancia High field quite often to run a few routes and feel the turf under his feet just because he misses it—a lot.
“It just feels so weird,” the Bears’ junior running back said. “I’m used to there being football right now, the schedule just doesn’t feel right, coronavirus threw everything off.”
Estancia senior Jake Zamora echoed Rivera-Noblitt’s point of view. “It’s different,” Zamora said. “You’re just so used to playing football this time of year—not being able to just sucks.”
Last year, the Bears lost their first two games but a big win at home over Escalante in early September started a seven-game winning streak. Estancia wound up finishing the 2019 season with an 8-4 record and a No. 5 ranking in the state playoffs.
After last spring’s baseball season got canceled, the news that football would be postponed until 2021 came as a blow to Zamora. “It hurt,” he said. “I was really looking forward to the season.”
Rivera-Noblitt added: “I miss the adrenaline, being under the lights, being able to hit someone and have that feeling.”
Estancia’s athletic director and head football coach Stewart Burnett said it has been 21 years since football wasn’t part of his fall regimen.
“I was in the fifth grade when I started playing,” Burnett said. He got into coaching after his playing days were over.
Burnett has helmed Estancia’s successful football program since 2012. Since 2013, he has led the Bears to seven consecutive winning seasons, making it to at least the state quarterfinals every year. The Bears won two consecutive state championships in 2014 and 2015.
After the governor’s decision in July to sideline high school football and soccer during the fall, the New Mexico Activities Association scheduled the two sports to tentatively start in February of 2021. The NMAA is currently not permitting in-person workouts, practices, or scrimmages in football, soccer, basketball, or wrestling.
“It’s just another bit of adversity we have to overcome, but our kids have been resilient—I’m not worried about our kids,” Burnett said, adding, “We’ve gotta make peace with the things we’re not in control of, we’ve just gotta make the best of it.”
Burnett said Estancia has returned to virtual workouts four days a week, as it did last spring, and he’s been impressed with the turnout and enthusiasm of his players. “The kids are working their butts off and they’re doing really good,” he said. “I think they’re like a bunch of caged dogs right now—they’re barking off the chain.”
Though the NMAA is allowing teams to use their weight rooms, Burnett said he doesn’t think that’s what’s best for the Bears right now.
“I know we can stay on our virtual stuff and we’ve gotten a lot out of that,” Burnett said.
Estancia has multiple athletes who will play both basketball and football, so there will tentatively be a “flex” football game scheduled against Capitan. That game could be scratched if the basketball team makes it deep into the state playoffs.
The basketball season is tentatively scheduled to start in January with the state playoffs in early March.
Burnett said the football team will likely play a five-game schedule, and for now, the general attitude is that a postponed season is better than a canceled one.
“When we get that green light, our kids’ll be ready,” Burnett said. “They’re gonna go with such fervor—it’s gonna be fun.”
Zamora concurred: “We’ve just gotta keep working hard and good things will happen. At least we still get to play.”
Ger has been writing and shooting photos of high school sports for The Independent for 15 years. His dedication to youth athletics goes beyond sports reporting. He is past president of East Mountain Little League and works as a baseball umpire. He lives in Edgewood with his family.