After Covid-19 sidelined the 2020 high school football season, area programs muddled through virtual or pod-driven workouts—mostly in their school weight rooms. Until recently, there was no certainty there would be a season at all.
But after starting hybrid in-person models on Feb. 8, Moriarty, Estancia, and Mountainair high schools have finally started official, full-blown football practices. They are among several high schools in New Mexico, along with 10 other states—according to the National Federation of State High School Associations—that are rolling out football in the spring.
“Ready? Go!” yelled Moriarty assistant coach Peter Romero to 40-plus Pintos football players out on the practice field on the north side of the campus. The players started their first official football practices in more than 14 months this week, running the length of the practice field with a high-stepping, knees-up drill.
“Get ‘em up high!” called out head coach Gabe Romeo. “Up and out! Up and out!”
Moments later, the team was practicing kickoffs. A few minutes after that, players split up into multiple groups, with offensive players working on running plays, defensive players working on penetrating the line and hitting tackle dummies, and defensive backs practicing covering pass plays.
They stopped occasionally for quick water breaks and then it was more of the same.
“We’ve got a long ways to go and a short time to get there,” Gabe Romero said on the second day of practice, referencing the theme song to the movie Smokey and the Bandit.
At the end of the first two practices, players were gasping for breath, some on their hands and knees wheezing.
Typically, high school football teams would have at least three weeks of two-a-day practices in early August before the first games. But now that the Covid-delayed season has finally arrived, teams have roughly nine days.
“Our goal is just to try and get as much of our offense and our defense in as we can by the first game,” Gabe Romero said.
“It feels amazing, especially being a senior,” Malcolm Denomme said after getting his shoulder pads on the third day of practice. “It gives you goosebumps, you know, I mean you just wanna play so bad, for sure, I’ve been waiting too long for this.”
Moriarty senior Bryan Wright sat out the 2019 season but played quarterback for the Pintos in 2018.
“I was already planning to come back my senior year,” Wright said. “I’m basically dedicating this season to Pedro and Mateo Sandoval.”
Wright said it was taking a little bit to get back into football shape, but when he got his shoulder pads on Wednesday he said, “I can’t wait to start hitting.”
Gabe Romero said he was happy to see Wright return. “I think a lot of kids think they won’t miss it and then they realize there’s nothing like football, so I’m glad to see him out here,” he said.
Romero said he was pleased with the overall turnout of players—roughly 40 kids showing up for practices each day. “I’m happy with the numbers, the kids are picking stuff up really fast and they’re working hard.”
In the middle of the week, Peter Romero said that the first days of practice were fun but crazy. “It felt weird,” he said about Monday’s initial practice, adding, “Now, it feels like football!”
The Pintos’ six-week season kicks off March 5 at Portales. Moriarty’s home opener is March 13.
“Guys,” Estancia head football coach Stewart Burnett addressed his players on Feb. 22, the first official day of football practice, “You’ve been sitting around for 12 months waiting for this day.”
Monday was actually Estancia’s first full-blown football practice in helmets and pads in more than 14 months, and Burnett described it as “a mess,” but added, “It’s great to be back.”
Multiple drills took place throughout the practice, some with the entire team—about 30 players in all, including a few eighth-graders.
Other drills were done with groups of players split up in various corners of the Bears’ artificial turf field.
Near the end of the first day’s practice, Estancia assistant coach, Eric Lucero, said, “Today is a special moment, this is so special, I forgot how this feels, this is awesome.”
As the sun went down on the first practice, Burnett said, “We’re here, and there’s a lot of people that would kill to be where we’re at—we get to re-start the journey.”
That journey is extra rewarding for seniors like Jacob Zamora—getting to spend time on the football field for his final season with his team.
“It’s great, I’m just so happy to be out here after all of this, it’s really important to me, I mean, I’m glad to be a part of all this my senior year,” Zamora said.
Burnett said he has never had so few days to get ready to play a game, and everything feels rushed, but by Thursday he said he was feeling more optimistic.
“It’s gotten a lot better, it’s actually looking like football,” Burnett said. “We’re getting a lot of reps in, and as we start to get into more of a rhythm, things are looking good—it actually feels like a stinkin’ football practice.”
Three of the five schools in Estancia’s district—Laguna-Acoma, McCurdy, and Escalante—are currently opting out of fall sports. But the Bears will kick off their shortened season March 6 against the remaining school in their district, Questa, on the road. Burnett said the game will be played at a neutral site in Santa Fe.
Mountainair athletic director, Consuelo Brazil, said in an email to The Independent that the school started a hybrid mode on Feb. 8 and started full practices for football on Feb. 22.
“Football will have a game hopefully next Friday [March 5],” Brazil said, adding, “We are so excited to be back on the field!” The Independent tried contacting head football coach Robert Zamora but did not hear back in time for this article.