Estancia High School’s two-a-day football practices got underway last week, culminating with the return of a special dead-of-night tradition: the midnight practice.

“I did it at Moriarty with coach [Bob] Allcorn and I loved it,” Bears head coach Stewart Burnett said about his longtime penchant for midnight practices.

After hosting their youth football camp on Aug. 6, the Bears held a team-building session in the school’s auxiliary gym and then went into the locker room to get suited up in full pads and helmets.

Around 11 p.m., Burnett joined the team in the locker room for a pep talk—the same as he generally does to get his players pumped up on game days. Near the end of his pep talk, Burnett pointed toward the locker room’s exit door.

“That door is your final reminder of who you’re supposed to be when you go out on that field,” Burnett told his players.

Above the exit door is a sign that says “Outwork” in big letters. The sign is footnoted with a quote by former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson that says, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

With the midnight hour approaching, the players exited the locker room and marched over to the football field.

Burnett said he wanted the team to approach the midnight practice in the same manner as they would a meaningful game.

It’s been two years since the Bears held their midnight practice to ring in the new football season. Last week’s return of the ritual marked the team’s first hard-hitting practice in full pads and brought a renewed excitement as the Bears get ready for their first fall season since 2019.

“This is a big deal,” Burnett said. “We want it to be a big deal.”

“It’s the start of the season, like, under the lights, going downfield, hitting and everything, it’s just really fun,” Estancia senior Abelino Ortiz said. “Yeah, it’s the start of the season.”

As the Bears took the field, the stadium lights—missing a bulb or two—didn’t seem quite as bright as usual. But the energy was electric as the one-on-one blocking and tackling drills started picking up steam.

The smacking sound of pads and helmets colliding, combined with heavy grunting, echoed across the field in the still of the night.

Around the stroke of midnight, the witching hour, the team gathered near the goal line at the south end of the field for a drill the Bears call “Blood Alley.”

Estancia Bears going at it during the Blood Alley drill in the team’s first midnight practice in two years, Aug. 6. Photo by Ger Demarest.

The Blood Alley drill comprises a couple of linemen who face off against two other linemen and a running back in the rear—simulating fourth-and-goal at the 2-yard line.

Between a row of long, skinny yellow pads placed on the ground about six feet apart—creating the alley—the linemen get set, helmet-to-helmet. The drill starts, and pads and helmets commence crunching.

It’s a little like watching bighorn sheep go at it on a mountain top.

“I think Blood Alley is the one that starts everything cuz it’s hitting, everybody gets in there, gets a taste of it, everybody gets their blood pumping,” Ortiz said.

The midnight practice also included multiple offensive plays executed in a quasi-scrimmage fashion.

For the Bears’ new running back, senior Daniel Chavez—who transferred to Estancia from Manzano High School—it was a chance to showcase his speed in his first and only midnight practice.

“It’s actually kinda sad, honestly. It’s cool but it’s sad at the same time cuz I know it’s my last one,” Chavez said, adding, “I’m excited, I haven’t played since freshman year, so we’ll see how it goes.”

Burnett said the players were just as enthusiastic about bringing back the midnight practice as he and his coaching staff were.

“This was very important to the kids,” Burnett said. “They were adamant that we have midnight practice, and so, here we are.”