Camp Verde football head coach Steve Darby is a few weeks into his new role at his alma mater and is beginning to settle in, following four years as an assistant at cross-valley rival Mingus Union.
"They've been great, it's been really easy," Darby said. "Because I teach here, and I know most of the kids, I'm familiar with the facilities, I'm familiar with the coaching staff, because I used to coach here and most of them are previous staff, so the transitions been really easy for me, everyone's been really supportive."
When Darby played his final football game for the Cowboys, he made a vow with teammate Tracy Tudor to return to Camp Verde and coach their former team. Now they are both back and coaching for the football team, making good on their promise.
"We've never forgotten about the vow we made our senior year, walking off our last football game, walking off the field," Darby remembered. "We've continued to talk about it throughout the years as we've gone through our lives and our careers, and then we both ended up back here teaching. Know, with me as the head football coach and him as the assistant, and him being the head wrestling coach this next year, it's incredible, it's a great feeling, we are fulfilling one of the dreams we always had."
Darby, who coached at Camp Verde prior to his time at Mingus, has been a fire sciences teacher at Camp Verde and even helped recruit during his time away from the program.
"Even though I coached at Mingus, teaching here on campus, I was always recruiting kids for football," the new head coach said. "Kids that were in my class that looked to be good athletes that didn't play football and weren't involved in sports, I was always marching them down to coach Steege's room and introducing them and saying 'you ought to think about going out for football.'"
While the transition back into the program has gone well for Darby, there has been a learning curve for the staff and players while learning his system. The offense is getting a complete overhaul, with new routes and terms, but the defense, while being a little different, is keeping all of its' terms, making their transition a bit easier.
"It's a new system for the old coaches; I'm bringing in a new offense and defense, same with the kids," Darby said. "They've been really open to the new system, but they have struggled with it a little bit, just in the fact that learning new plays, new numbering systems for the backs and receivers, it takes a little bit of time and repetition to really learn well. And that's not just the players, the coaches have to learn that as well."
Since Darby was already familiar with aspects of the team, including the students he had recruited, it has made the team more open to accepting the new offense and Darby as their coach.
"From a standpoint of knowing the kids, that's been a great help (recruiting the students), because they know me, they trust me, they like me, so it was a real easy sell for them to come play for me," Darby said. "And I also know, to an extent, their abilities as athletes, so it's been pretty good."
While the team is becoming comfortable with Darby and open to what he brings to the table, his expectations for the team are few, but expansive. He expects the team to accept his system, the seniors to be leaders, and be dedicated. That involves the players being at as many summer practices as they can, being in the weight room, playing in tournaments and raising money for the football camp they will be attending in California.
The retreat that Darby will be taking his seniors on will help them become the leaders that he wants, and expects, them to be, and help them grow together as one unit.
"It's imperative we have senior leadership on our team," Darby said. "The seniors need to know that they are mentors and role models for the younger kids, they, in a way, become coaches and help coach the younger kids, that's how we create a program."
The coaches will take the seniors to the mountains, where they will discuss expectations for the season, what the players expect from the coaches and vice-versa, what it takes to be a leader, like the different characteristics of one, and enforcing the team rules off the field, as well as on it. They will also develop a team slogan and be given a challenge to complete.
"That is the senior leadership," Darby said. "That is them saying 'this is our season, this is our year and we're going to make this a good year.' So they take some ownership in that."
He has already made an impression on some of the seniors. Offensive lineman and linebacker Alex Tapia likes Darby's presence and how it affects the team, and how he has helped the program grow in his short time back.
"It's been pretty good. On defense, it's a lot of the stuff from last year, but Darby sets the mood [of the team]," Alex said. "He got a lot of kids encouraged to come out, we've had like 40 kids come out last week, every day, we've been working hard."
Josh Gray, a senior that returned to the team his final year, likes how Darby works the team to get better; whether it is in the weight room or on the field.
"I've liked what coach Darby's been doing, he's been working us really hard in the weight room and especially on the practice field," Josh said. "I like how we work out in the weight room, for about an hour, really intense, then we go out on the practice field and work on our plays and drill, I like what he's doing here."
The one thing that Darby said about his new team is, win or lose, they will be competitive and do well. He is doing everything that is necessary to on his end to help the Cowboys and make sure that happens, from motivating the team to recruiting, Darby is back at his school and in the few weeks it has been since he has taken over, he has already made as difference.