|Sophomore Carson Zale snags a Mingus Union pass out of the air during the two school’s 7-on-7 game. VVN/Travis Guy|
|Texas transfer Michael Martin hauls down a pass during a 7-on-7 game. VVN/Travis Guy|
When Steve Darby took over the reins as the Camp Verde head football coach he knew he was facing an uphill battle when it came to changing the culture of Cowboys football.
One year into his tenure and the changes are visible, but more so at the middle school level. He is still working to improve the perception of Camp Verde football among some of his older players, as evident by the attendance numbers of off-season workouts. To add to that, when the Cowboys hosted five teams in a round-robin 7-on-7 tournament they were without nearly half their team that was at a church retreat. This forced many changes and the addition of a few familiar faces.
"This year has been a little slow starting," Darby said. "Some of our upper-classmen haven't come around like we would have hoped, they've slowly started to trickle in. having said that, half of our kids we're away at church camp and we had to bring in two of our seniors from this last year to help us, but we tried to limit their play and any chance we could get a younger guy in there we did... they rose up, they did well and I'm really pleased with their performance."
Down a few handfuls of players, Darby asked a few grads for a hand. Former Cowboys Tyler Dickey, Chance Weir, Braden Hackett and Kyle Lobaugh were all there to assist their former teammates in various capacities. All of the current players that took the field were playing different positions than they were used to and at the beginning it looked as though Camp Verde might have been better off waiting until the rest of their team returned from their retreat.
But then they began to settle down. Junior Dakota Brueland, a receiver, took the snaps under center despite having one day to of practice as a quarterback. The receivers were running their routes well and everything fell into place once the Cowboys settled down.
"We were all in new positions yesterday and once we figured out what we had to do we became a lot better team than when we started," Brueland said.
It was not just the offense that improved as the games went on. The defense hung in there with the likes of Mingus and beat Sedona. Three-sport athlete Carson Zale showed off his improvements on with interceptions and catches.
"Carson's a great athlete and he's very dedicated to whatever he's doing, whether it be baseball or wrestling or football and he has high standards for himself," Darby said. "When he screws up it really bothers him and that's what makes him a good athlete is that he does push himself."
Through the games and the summer as a whole Darby and his team did not want to just improve each game, or gain a better understanding of the playbook (all that was done during the past year), no, they want to win and expect to compete with schools.
"When 7-on-7 starts in the summer, of course we're always teaching, even in the fall season, but they're expected to get out there and play," Darby said. "Its one team against another, we're usually keeping score and it's a competition. So we're not ramping up to anything. We're trying to get better everyday but they're expected to play with intensity at a top level."
Brueland and Corder both agreed that the team was working on getting stronger and faster this off-season and that is one of the main goals. With the lack of size on the team this is a must. But along the way some other things were figured out as well. Darby said that after one day of practice before being thrown into a live situation, Brueland impressed him.
He impressed his head coach enough for him to say that the junior is going to be one of the Cowboys' backup quarterbacks in the approaching season.
"It was weird," Brueland admitted. "I'm used to playing receiver and it was really weird. I've never been in a game situation like that but I felt that it was a great experience for me and I'm happy that I can help lead our team and do what I can to help our team win."
Zale has improved immensely from the time he stepped on the varsity field as a freshman and has his coaches excited about his sophomore year. Transfer Michael Martin (from Texas) has his new coaches pumped on what he brings to the table, if he stays on the team. Corder, Eduardo Mora and others have put on noticeable size thanks to the weight room, which will help the thrower out as he runs through the defensive line as the Cowboys fullback.
"There's been more people showing up," Corder said. "Right now a lot of people are at Hume ... but we've been doing pretty good, in our 7-on-7 yesterday we beat Sedona, that was awesome and we've all been making gains, all been feeling good about it, so I'd say its been going pretty well."
The Cowboys showed their opponents that despite running a skeleton crew of a 7-on-7 team, they could compete. It is still difficult to say what the team will look like in 2014 because they were without seniors like Bodie Holowell and Jordan Reay (on the church retreat) but they are on the right path.
"It was all about hitting our stride," Corder said. "It was just a rag-tag team of kids that we had that showed up for practice the day before. Once we hit our stride we got really motivated and really started to get everything down and it helped us a lot."
In the end Darby called out his players from 2013 that have not been showing up, hoping that they make their way to the football field this summer. But at the same time he praised the enthusiasm he has gotten from the incoming freshman and current middle schoolers, as well as his veterans on the team.
"We've got a lot of incoming talent, we've got a lot of commitment, dedication and athleticism with these kids, so I'm excited for that part of it," Darby said. "It's kind of saved our buts a little bit, where all these kids come in and fill the positions we would normally have our upper-classmen fill. But that's not to take away from Bodie Hollowell, Jordan Reay, Dylan Dacuycuy, Curtis Corder and of course Brueland ... they've been spot on, dedicated, intensity, they've been there everyday mentoring the kids. But there are a lot of kids that we haven't seen yet and that's a little disappointing. But the culture in Camp Verde hasn't been this intense, that I know of, and I'm asking a lot of these kids and I'm trying to change the culture. It's a work in progress, we'll get there, it may take a few years."