When new Camp Verde football head coach Steve Darby was hired a few weeks ago, he had to hit the ground running.
Coming into the program following the end of the school year meant that Darby had to scramble to begin installing his system and lineup 7-on-7 tournaments for his athletes.
"Because I came in late, I wasn't able to schedule as many 7-on-7's as I would have liked to," Darby said. "Some of the other teams around the state have already been to six or eight competitions, where we have only been able to schedule two before now, and we've got three more scheduled ahead of us."
Despite this, the new coach was able to schedule some contests. The Cowboys have already participated in one tournament and a scrimmage with Sedona Red Rock High School, and in Darby's short time with the team, he has already seen the improvements.
"We've only done two [7-on-7 contests]. Our first one was a Monument Valley tournament, which had 15 teams. It had some larger teams, from New Mexico and the reservation, up North," the fire sciences teacher said. "We had only practiced two times prior to that, so we didn't perform real well, but it was amazing to see the kids from the very first game to the last game, which we played five games during the day, how much they've improved and come together as a team. The second 7-on-7 that we did was more of a scrimmage with Sedona, we did that last Thursday night, and the kids looked great."
While the Cowboys are going to the tournaments to compete for trophies and holding games with other schools for bragging rights and a preview of possible showdowns during the season, Darby treats every match as a practice, always helping the kids improve and learn the new system, which is an overhaul of the offense and minor changes to the defense.
"It brings them together as a team, they're learning the offense and defense. We take our 7-on-7 tournaments as if they're practices, and we teach all the way through each game, we teach and the kids learn," Darby said. "They're figuring out what we expect from them on the field, and we're coaching them, so it's like a practice. That's probably the biggest thing they get out of it."
This is a fact that he has made sure the football team is aware of, and that there is a learning curve they have to deal with.
"I just like his intensity, how he keeps telling us how, 'I know we're going to make mistakes, but just keep going and get better, because we're here to practice, one percent better every day,'" said senior signal caller and defense player Josh Gray.
While learning a new system can be hard, especially for the seniors that have spent the past three seasons playing under a different one, the 7-on-7 games help accelerate the learning process by throwing them into a live scenario.
"We practice it at practice, but its not the same walking through it and actually going live, without the coaches helping you, telling you step-by-step what to do," said senior lineman Alex Tapia. "It helps the coaches see where we're at, what we need to work on. Like last week in Sedona, we had the plays down, our positioning was just off."
Darby has already noticed a difference in their grasp of his offense, and the exposure the student-athletes are getting to other teams is helping, saying that it is necessary for the team to be successful.
"It's just all about exposing the kids to the competitive level of the successful teams that are out there doing this right now," Darby said. "It brings them together as a team, keeps them bought in, because its hard to practice for two and a half months with no competition, so they can gauge themselves with other teams, keep score and compete for a trophy, so its necessary for a successful program."
While the benefits of teams getting more games under their belts are obvious, for Camp Verde, it helps reduce the learning curve and help the team grow into a single unit.
"Absolutely, because you're in a competitive arena, where you're playing against another team. You're keeping score, there's referees, so it puts them in a game-time scenario, and they want to be successful, so it, I think, accelerates the learning curve for them," Darby said.
The Cowboys will venture to Cottonwood today, June 12, to play a 3-team tournament with Mingus Union and Flagstaff High Schools. In addition to the games, the lineman from the Cowboys and Marauders will square off in a "big man" competition, before traveling North to Flagstaff to participate in a 20-team tournament the next day.. The events will begin around 6 p.m. at Mingus Union.
"I think they'll be good, I think Mingus will be fun," Josh said. "I know they're not in our division anymore, but I think it will be good, especially if we can go over there and beat them, especially because he used to coach for them."