Estancia High School football players were practicing on their field this week in their separate pods. But they were donning something they haven’t worn in quite a while—their helmets.

“The last time I had a helmet on my head woulda been November of—” Ja’Brae Boyer, the Bears’ sophomore quarterback, stopped in the middle of his sentence. Then added, “Too long ago!”

The Bears have not been on the field wearing their red helmets since November of 2019—more than 14 months ago. “I’m pretty hyped up, honestly,” Estancia senior Isidro Astorga said.

Estancia High School football players were out on the field this week wearing helmets for the first time in more than a year. Photo by Ger Demarest.

Adrian Lucero added, “Yeah, it’s very exciting, ya know? It’s something that I haven’t done in a long time, I’m ready to work.”

After getting the green light from the state last week to resume high school sports, the New Mexico Activities Association released its latest calendar this week. Barring no significant increases in Covid-19 cases, practices for football, volleyball, and cross country can start on Feb. 22.

“As I understand it, once the 22nd hits, it’s full practice,” Estancia head football coach and athletic director Stewart Burnett said, adding, “I think most people are cautiously optimistic, they’ve been burned before, but I think they actually believe it now.”

Moriarty is also gearing up to resume its fall sports schedule on Feb. 22. With both school districts implementing a middle and high school hybrid in-person schedule on Feb. 8, competitions for volleyball and cross country can start as early as Feb. 27. Soccer practices are still slated to get going on March 1, and football games can kick off March 5.

“Right now, it gives us a little bit more hope that things are gonna go,” Moriarty head football coach Gabe Romero said. “I’m more optimistic, we had a meeting the other day with [NMAA executive director] Sally Marquez and she seems pretty confident that everything’s gonna go, so I’m confident we’re gonna start.”

Romero said he understands that there might be some doubt in some people’s minds, but he thinks a lot of kids are excited about the prospect of playing.

One of those kids is sophomore Preston Hatten. Hatten played JV in 2019 and is hoping to move up to varsity this year.

“It feels great now that we get to play,” Hatten said. “The mask is the only thing bad about it, but that’s what we have to deal with. It’s been kinda rough not playing, but now that we’re gonna play I’m ready to go.”

Burnett handed out helmets to his players on Tuesday and added shoulder pads on Thursday. On both days, players were separated in their pods in different areas of the Bears’ field. Offensive running backs did drills in one corner, defensive players in another, and at the 10-yard line, Boyer was taking snaps from his assistant coach.

“It’s been too long since I’ve played a football game and I’m ready to get back at it,” Boyer said. “I’m ready for it, definitely, I’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time now.”

Burnett acknowledged that anything can happen in the next two weeks, but he remains positive about the return of sports.

“We start with our kiddos [in a hybrid model] on Monday and I think we’ll be fine,” Burnett said. “We will have our full athletic program—all levels—that is the plan, as long as nothing unexpected crops up and gets in the way of that.”

Romero said he hopes to hand out helmets and pads to Moriarty’s players the week of Feb. 15. He said the season will be different from any other; he also said there is a little concern about what the covid numbers might do once students are back in school.

“Are they gonna fluctuate and then will they shut us back down? Who knows?” Romero said. “But right now, we’re moving full steam ahead.”