If 2020 has proven anything, it’s that people are stronger together.
COVID-19 has forced many to adapt and change their lives in ways no one could have predicted. Those changes haven’t been easy, but for the Chaparral Firebirds, it has brought them closer than ever.
Chaparral was days away from kicking off their season against Saguaro on Oct. 2, before a player tested positive for COVID-19. The Firebirds were forced to quarantine for 14 days before they could return to the field.
“I couldn’t process it when it first happened, I didn’t think it was real,” said senior offensive lineman Sardar Azeez. “I’m just glad it didn’t happen while we were on a good playoff run.”
Azeez and his teammates could only wait, as their games against Saguaro, Sandra Day O'Connor and Hamilton were cancelled.
“I had to find something to do,” said quarterback Brayton Silbor. “I took a drive for about an hour just thinking that we could be playing right now.”
As grueling and challenging as those 14 days were, Chaparral will no longer wonder when they will hit the field next. The Firebirds will play their first game at home against Brophy on Friday night, after being cleared to return to practice last Wednesday.
“I felt like a little kid excited to play his first football game,” said wide receiver Capri Hamilton. “It was a long 14 days but I know it was necessary. I know everyone on the team feels the same way.”
Even though the Firebirds were expected to stay inside and safe, they still managed to find the time to stay mentally and physically ready for their upcoming games.
Film sessions over zoom, going on daily jogs and weightlifting are just a few of the activities that the Firebirds have done to stay prepared. Above all else, coaches like Tim Kohner have prioritized the mental aspect over the physical.
“It has been about trying to keep their spirits up,” Kohner said. “It’s definitely been more about keeping their mind in the game rather than keeping them physically fit.”
Kohner serves as Chaparral’s wide receivers coach where he mentors Hamilton, Max Minor, Jackson Holmes and Cooper Nemeth amongst others. His guidance has echoed throughout the offense as a whole during the isolation period.
“Kohner has probably been the one telling us the most to stay inside and to not hangout with anyone outside the football team,” Hamilton said. “He’s told us to be prepared and know our priorities mainly.”
Many of the Firebirds used the downtime to bond more with their teammates while keeping each other motivated.
“If anything we’ve been playing Xbox together and staying positive,” Azeez said. “We just can’t wait to get back on the field, we’re hungry and ready for that.”
The Firebirds still have a chance to make the open-division playoffs but will likely have to go 5-0 in order to do so. Their lack of preparation over the past few weeks doesn’t make it any easier for them.
This still doesn’t change the expectations that Chaparral has set for themselves from the beginning. They have already managed to overcome adversity once this year without wavered confidence.
“Sure we missed a few games but this is still Chaparral,” Azeez said. “We’re going out there and doing the best we can.”
Even though COVID-19 kept them off the field, the Firebirds have stayed locked in for the future matchups on it. Their 14-day quarantine has helped them grow together, and because of it, they are stronger than ever.
“Everybody is going through the same things we’ve gone through,” Kohner said. “So to say poor Chaparral or that we’re dealing with something no one else is dealing with is an excuse. I don’t care if we play three games or eight games, I’m expecting to win them all.”
Cole Bradley is a sports journalism student at Arizona State University covering Chaparral High School athletics.