For whatever can be gleaned from a random late-April high school football practice, Friday’s featured a spirited bunch on Hamilton’s field. With minimal contact allowed during the spring, the defense stopped the offense on a fourth-down simulation play near the goal line and the cheers and cackling commenced.
It was — whether intentional or natural — the antithesis of when the last time Hamilton took to a field.
That surreal scene — in opposite ways for both Hamilton and Desert Vista — was a 45-19 thrashing by the Thunder in the Division I state championship game last Thanksgiving weekend.
The Huskies’ attempt at a fourth consecutive championship and their 53-game winning streak were stopped on a dime. For most Huskies players, it was the first loss of their high school careers, and in their final game to boot.
“It’s been rough,” senior offensive lineman Patrick Joseph said.
For those returning in 2012, it was a long five months waiting to see a field again, even if it doesn’t remotely resemble what the Huskies — and every other school going through spring practice this week — seek to be by the time the season-opener against Mountain Pointe, of which there’s a countdown clock on the wall of the school’s weight room that’s currently ticking away right down to the second.
Much will change between now and late July, let alone late August, let alone October or November. Unlike last year when the Huskies had 17 or 18 new starters on the field from the 2010 team, Huskies coach Steve Belles figures nine starters from 2011 must be replaced, while the offensive line (the biggest question mark last summer) returns practically intact.
But that’s only the details and lineups. There were no radical changes or philosophies in the wake of. Only acknowledgement that the Huskies were whooped in every facet of the game, and some time to heal.
“It’s definitely put a chip on our shoulder,” Joseph said. “We hope it’ll become a blessing in disguise and help us in the long run.”
That, of course, remains to be seen, or even if a tangible connection exists between last year’s final game and whatever happens in 2012. There is, however, little that’s changed among the many who return, whether as a starter or as a significant contributor, or kids who are trying to crack the lineup.
“Feels good to be back on the field again,” senior defensive back Cole Luke said, “but we can’t wait to get back on it for real.”
Nobody questioned the players’ attitudes or efforts all season — Belles had repeatedly praised his kids’ character, effort and attitudes all summer and season — but, in retrospect, a few Huskies wondered if a level of entitlement crept in to a few kids’ minds before the championship game. After all, they were Hamilton, had won games in nearly every conceivable way possible (including crazy comebacks) and had beaten Desert Vista earlier in the season.
Ultimately, who knows, and the Huskies were lavish in their praise for how Desert Vista made every play, every adjustment, and, as Belles described it, “beat us in every direction there is and a few that probably don’t exist.”
Joseph and Luke said much the same, and Luke wondered if the realization that “we showed we’re beatable,” might cause other schools who had doubts to raise their level of play and confidence.
On the flip side, however, he believes his team will do the same. For even on a random Friday spring practice where pads and tackling aren’t allowed, there was intensity, laughing and teaching.
There was no history lecture. The recent past — bitter a pill though it was — has been swallowed.
“It’s always in the back of our minds.” Joseph said. “Everyone loses a game, but it will be a defining part of my football career the rest of my life. It’s over and gone, and we have a pretty talented team.”
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 898-6576.