When North Central and Rogers meet in the late game on Thursday at Albi Stadium, there won’t be anything on the line other than pride.
The Indians and Pirates are a combined 1-15 this season – with no league wins.
Neither team averages a touchdown-plus-extra point in league play and both allow more than 35 points per game.
This isn’t a new development. NC is a combined 5-23 the past three seasons with two league wins – both over Rogers, which is 2-25 in the same span.
The schools just aren’t equipped to compete – on a lot of levels.
Both programs are helmed by first-year coaches: Sean Garvey took over at NC after assisting with the defensive line for three seasons. Longtime assistant David Chambless ascended to head coach at Rogers.
Both have had challenges in their first year as head coach.
“I think sometimes people lose perspective of what we’re dealing with outside of the goal lines,” Chambless said.
“The Friday night lights are kind of bright in a lot of our kids’ eyes,” Garvey said.
Changing the culture
“There’s not a football culture within the school,” Garvey said.
One particular problem facing NC is that most of the coaching staff are not full-time employees of the school district – Garvey included.
Garvey starts his day at 6 a.m. as a registered nurse, works an 8-hour day, then goes to school to run practice. He said the situation is “more than a little strange.”
“It’s a very unique situation as far as I know,” he said. “I don’t think there’s been a head football coach – certainly not at NC – that was not a teacher in-building.”
Garvey was given the “interim” tag for the season but wants to make it permanent once the season is over.
He’d like to find a few more assistants that work at school, too.
“It’s not like you can hide the fact that most of the coaching staff is coming after work from other jobs to come and coach.”
He said the two coaches who work at the school try to keep players occupied between the end of classes and the start of practice – a less-than-ideal situation for everyone – but not without some benefit.
“We used to have a lot of problems with grades,” Garvey said. “That’s down to a minimum because we’ve incorporated a study table. Since we’re having practice late, the two coaches in the building keep an eye on them and show game film from the 45 minutes at the end of school until the beginning of practice.”
Garvey’s program got a lift this summer – an anonymous donor supplied two new sets of jerseys.
“We wouldn’t have had a full set of white uniforms this season without it,” he said.
He said the program is holding on to more players at the varsity level and at JV.
“I wish it could have turned into more wins and better games,” Garvey said. “But our schedule was pretty tough this year.
“I mean it’s always pretty tough against those 4As every year, getting beat up by them.”
Despite the challenges of the schedule, Garvey said the biggest issue is internal.
“We’re playing for pride a lot of the time,” Garvey said. “We get some good stuff happening, just not consistently enough.”
Garvey at least has been able to lean on his son Kade, who is attracting the attention of college scouts at running back.
“You couldn’t ask for a better athlete,” Garvey said. “He’s fairly naturally gifted, but he’s also very coachable in things. He just gets it done.”
NC has eight seniors – four starters – and only one was a returning letterman. Garvey starts three sophomores on his offensive line.
“It’s a great group of kids,” he said. “I kind of wish it was a larger group. But we have a great dynamic going.”
Dealing with distractions
Rogers coach Chambless knew what he was getting in to when he took the job, having spent the last two years as defensive coordinator for the Pirates.
Still, it’s tough. He has only 19 players to suit up this week after the injury and attrition of the season.
“Trying to have a practice with 19 kids, with kids that are ineligible or they have to go (take care of) their brother or sister … there are just a lot more outside distractions at these types of schools that you don’t have to deal with at others,” he said.
Chambless said the injury factor was more than he bargained for.
“Going through the 4A – what we call our 4A gauntlet – and trying to be healthy coming out of the end of that into our 3A schedule is our biggest challenge,” he said, noting the dropoff from his starters to backups is “exponential,” considering he couldn’t field a JV team this season.
Unlike some programs in the area or state, Chambless agreed that little kids don’t grow up dreaming of playing high school football at Rogers.
He said it’s especially hard when a solid athlete does come around that he can lose him to other programs.
“If we have an outstanding Pop Warner athlete, he will have the option to go to Gonzaga Prep. There are conversations to be had there with certain kids and parents that, ‘We need your kid to come to Rogers,’ so we can build a program,” he said.
“But then it’s hard when you go 0-8 in your first year as a coach.”
Chambless said some of the distractions are basic. He has implemented a peanut butter and jelly station in the weight room to help his players’ diets.
“Even if you lift weights for an hour and a half every day, then you go home and you don’t know where your next meal is coming from or if you’re just eating Top Ramen or macaroni and cheese, you’re not getting the same nutrition,” he said.
“When you get a 160-pound sophomore lineman trying to move a junior or senior defensive lineman from Mt. Spokane or U-Hi, you’re not going to get a lot of push there,” he said.
“A lot of our kids, they’re at school way before school starts because, one, they don’t want to be at home; and two, they get their first meal here.”
It’s a different perspective.
“These kids go through trauma that no teenager should have to go through,” he said. “They’ve dealt with adversities that that make you hard. We do as much as we can for them when we have them.”
Chambless talked about it being a “24-hour job,” picking up kids for school and taking them home after practice, having an open door not only as coach but as counselor – and having to meet with parents or guardians when problems arise.
“I’ve had to dismiss some players that have been great players for us but they’re not doing things the right way,” he said. “We’re all about second chances, but if you can’t do things right, then we have to find somebody else who will even if they aren’t as good.”
Chambless mentioned the possibility of reclassification for the next cycle, but he also brought up his team’s losses to smaller schools this season.
He makes no excuses. He knows it’s still a competitive endeavor.
“If you’re on my schedule, we’re playing and we’re going to give you our best shot,” he said. “If we come out on the losing end of that, so be it. We’ll learn from that loss and we’ll continue to get stronger through that.
“We’re not afraid to play anybody, but we also understand we’re dealing with a lot more issues.”
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