“Push it! Push it! Dig! Dig!” a mask-wearing coach yelled to a small group of Moriarty High School student-athletes sprinting across the 50-yard width of the football field.

The sight and the sounds, a few minutes past 7 a.m. last Monday, seemed almost unreal given that no student-athletes have sprinted across Moriarty’s football field in months.

The student-athletes comprised the first group, or “pod,” as the New Mexico Activities Association has labeled them, to begin on-campus summer workouts under the NMAA’s Return to Play guidelines.

Fifteen minutes later, another pod arrived at Moriarty’s practice field with varsity football head coach Gabe Romero supervising.

“Go ahead, take a lap,” Romero told his pod.

The five boys ran their lap, followed by a few minutes of stretching before heading over to the main football field to run their 50-yard sprints.

“It feels great,” Vicente Cano said, breathing heavily after completing his sprints with the second pod. “I’m pretty tired, it feels like it’s been a couple years of not doing anything.”

After the sprints, the pod headed to the weight room.

“We’re keeping them separated, we funnel them in and do a big circle,” Romero said, referring to the agenda of checking the kids in, having them warm up on the practice field, moving over to the main football field, and then going to the weight room.

“It’s not the ideal situation, but I’m excited that we at least get to do something, it’s a step forward,” Romero said.

An hour later, Moriarty girls soccer players were working out on the soccer field south of the campus.

Later in the day, Moriarty girls and boys basketball players, and Estancia High School girls basketball players, were in their respective gyms.

The next morning before sunrise, Estancia football players were on the field. An hour later, boys basketball players were in the school’s main gym.

After being cooped up for three months, scores of Moriarty and Estancia student-athletes are back on their respective campuses doing what they have been itching to do since mid-March: working out with their coaches and teammates.

“It’s super nice to be here,” Moriarty girls basketball player Payton Edwards said. “It’s really nice to be around my teammates, just like seeing them and being able to talk to them.”

Last month, the NMAA set June 15 as the earliest date schools could return to sports activities. With A.P.S. and Rio Rancho schools not resuming until the end of June or later, Moriarty and Estancia are among the few Albuquerque area schools to get some of their summer sports activities back in action. Other sports, such as volleyball and boys soccer, will start later this summer.

As per the NMAA’s guidelines, athletes must have their temperatures taken and answer a quick Covid-19 questionnaire during check-in. Everyone maintains social distancing at all times; the pods must adhere to a maximum of five-athletes-to-one-coach ratio; there are strict cleaning and sanitizing requirements; no one shares any equipment or water bottles; wearing face coverings—students when they arrive and coaches at all times—is mandatory; and no one may congregate anywhere before or afterward the workouts.

Though the focus during the first few days was easing the athletes back into the swing of things with stretching and conditioning followed by fundamentals and simple drills, the coaches and players were all brimming with enthusiasm.

“It’s nice to be back in person, communicating face to face,” Estancia boys basketball head coach and assistant football coach Daniel Pierce said.

“It’s good for [the players], just mentally getting out, they just need to be around people,” Moriarty girls basketball head coach Erin Edwards said.

“I am really excited to be out here being able to do something, whatever it is,” Moriarty girls soccer head coach Val Luker said. “I’m glad they’re offering us the opportunity.”

“Honetly, I’m really excited, especially because it’s my senior year,” Moriarty girls soccer player Grace Hart said.

“It’s exciting, I’ve been anxious to get back,” Moriarty girls basketball player Evann Segura said.

Based on the impressive turnout of athletes, Estancia athletic director and head football coach Stewart Burnett said he thinks the return to play is somewhat of a wake-up call.

“Sports got shut down and ripped away from us for three months and now all of a sudden people can get here, people wanna be here, it’s been a nice little reset button,” Burnett said, adding, “We had 21 kids here this morning, we have not had 21 kids at a summer football workout in years. Coach [J.C.] Batts had over 20 kids for girls basketball, Coach Pierce has 28 kids, so we’ve got 70-plus kids working out on campus, that hasn’t happened in a long time.”

estancia football

Jake Zamora running a sideline drill at sunrise in Estancia. Photo by Ger Demarest.

Pierce, who ran a 5 a.m. football pod followed by a 6 a.m. basketball pod, said all the kids followed the NMAA guidelines—and when the workouts were over, they did not want to leave.

“They wore their masks, they washed their hands, they kept their six feet distance, even in the gym,” Pierce said, adding, “They’re pumped, it’s hard getting them out of the gym, I mean, a lot of them were like, ‘Can we stay and shoot?’ and I said, ‘No, once your hour’s over you’ve gotta go, you can’t hang out.’ You could see the bummed look on their faces, you can tell they’ve missed it a lot.”