COTTONWOOD — Not only does the Mingus Union Marauder football program have some new players, its coach said this week — and the team has also been able to get some seasoned veterans to return as well.
That could make a big difference when the Marauders finally play their first 2020 game. Mingus is set to play at Flagstaff High on Friday, Oct. 2, in what will be a 4 p.m. game.
“We got some of the older guys to buy in, and come back out for football,” coach Doug Provenzano said. “When you’re a first-year coach, you want to make sure everyone can do all of the basic things, so there are about 10 to 12 concepts we’re making sure every player has down.”
The Marauders’ challenges are vast, and include both dealing with the same COVID-19 protocol and some obstacles unique to Cottonwood or the team. Not the least of those challenges has been that the players have had less time on the field for workouts this summer than any team in the Grand Canyon Region, Provenzano said.
“We changed things up due to the high rate of COVID-19, and didn’t allow anyone on campus (starting June 26, after a spike in Cottonwood-area cases),” Provenzano said. “But we’re going to be fine. “We’re going to keep the playbook simple. We’re not going to throw too much at them.”
Provenzano said following protocol has been both important and tedious, at times, especially in encouraging social distancing.
“Football is all about playing together, and being together, with physical contact,” Provenzano said. “It’s natural for kids to want to high-five each other after a positive play or effort. But it’s our job, as coaches, along with trainers, to get them to follow all the rules.”
Provenzano said it’s a priority not only to be compliant, but also to not transmit the COVID-19 virus. Each practice starts at 3:45 p.m. with a health screening of everyone who will be involved, and among 1,800-plus screenings, no symptoms of COVID-19 have shown up.
Anyone who shows symptoms will be excused from practice, he said.
Numbers have improved, Provenzano said, and there are now more than 60 student-athletes practicing. There are about 35 freshmen, and with all of the sophomores being pulled up to varsity, the Marauders will field only a varsity and a freshmen team this year.
“We hope to have about 70 total, with 33 to 35 on each team,” Provenzano said. “That way, the freshmen can all start a new system and grow up in it, together.”
Mingus athletic director Yancey Devore said each football student-athlete — both Mingus Union and from visiting teams — will be issued two tickets for each competition MUHS hosts. This wil be covered in more detail in a separate Verde Independent story.
Protocol has included tons of sanitizing. The team even obtained a restaurant-type dishwasher in order to sanitize helmets.
Another challenge will be starting its seven-game season with a daytime contest. Coconino High School will play a home game at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 2, so the Marauders must take on the Flagstaff Eagles in a 4 p.m. game on the same field.
The Eagles went 6-4 last season and 3-3 in the Grand Canyon Region, while the Marauders went 0-10. The Marauders’ last win was a 21-17 road playoff victory at Bradshaw Mountain on Nov. 2, 2018.
The Marauders’ 2020 home opener will be Friday, Oct. 9, 7 p.m., against Mohave.
Provenzano said even playing with limited-capacity crowds won’t be the same, as the noise and energy of a full stadium and its cheering and music are a huge part of school athletics.
“Fans make it great, so games might feel like scrimmages, at first,” Provenzano said. “And our first real contact won’t be until Oct. 2.”
2020 MINGUS UNION VARSITY FOOTBALL SCHEDULE
All games on Fridays
Home games in bold
Oct. 2 — at Flagstaff, 4 p.m.
Oct. 9 — vs. Mohave, 7 p.m.
Oct. 16 — vs. Combs, 7 p.m.
Oct. 23 — at Bradshaw Mountain, 7 p.m.
Oct. 30 — at Lee Williams, 7 p.m.
Nov. 6 — vs. Coconino, 7 p.m.
Nov. 13 — at Prescott, 7 p.m.