Camp Verde High football started its official practices short handed but the Cowboys are still eyeing a return to the playoffs.
Camp Verde started practicing on Monday and by Wednesday had completed its three practices in helmets, t-shirts and shorts and were scheduled to practice in shoulder pads for the first time on Thursday, the next step before full pads.
“We’re excited about putting pads on,” said Camp Verde head coach Jerome Rhoades.
However, Rhoades, who is starting his first preseason as head coach of the Cowboys, said they’re struggling and progress has been slow due to a shrinking coaching staff. He said they haven’t had issues, just that coaches have quit, limiting the Cowboys in their first week of practices.
“We’re down to down to only a couple coaches right now and so we’re struggling at practice to get the work we need because of the number of coaches that we have,” Rhoades said.
Senior quarterback/strong safety Payton Sarkesian said the first few practices have mostly gone well.
“It’s going pretty good,” said senior center/defensive end Bryce Garcia. “It seems like our line’s improving, we have a couple returning players from the line. The seniors coming up are pretty good leading the line, I’m a leader of the line. We have a lot of young kids that are improving, that are able to take up spots too So it’s doing pretty good.”
The Cowboys are also tweaking their offense a bit.
“Defensively we’ll be similar to last year,” Rhoades said. “Offensively we’ll be similar but it depends on how well we can block our base stuff. If we get to a point where we can’t block our base stuff then we’ll just have to kinda go double tights and Power I, like we did last year, we’ll do that too, we’ll do whatever we need to do to win a football game.”
Last year Camp Verde finished 4-6 despite starting the season 1-3 when former head coach Steve Darby was suspended before he ultimately resigned.
Last season Sarkesian led the region in passing with 1,084 yards, 120.4 a game. He was ninth in the state in passing.
Sarkesian said the new offense can be powerful.
“It’s simple and complex at the same time, it just depends on where you’re playing on the field,” Sarkesian said. “But I think it’s gonna work really well cuz we’ve had a lot of offenses that are really confusing for kids and if you get your head around this one, then you pretty much got it and it can be a powerhouse offense.”
Last year Garcia was second team All-Region. He said he likes the offense a well.
“The new offense is actually working out for us,” Garcia said. “It’s easy in the backfield and it’s actually easy for the linemen to understand, we have the same blocks and everything and it’s real easy for the linemen to learn.”
While the Cowboys are light on coaches, they have seen an increase in players.
They had 16-18 players the last few weeks of summer but had 28 cleared as of Wednesday, Rhoades said.
“We’re going to be really thin but we’re going to be ok,” Rhoades said. “We may not have two teams but I think once school starts we’ll get five or six more.”
The Cowboys didn’t have enough players for 7-on-7 games and Big Man Competitions like Mingus Union and Sedona, but Sarkesian said they had a productive summer and the Camp Verde Youth Football Camp last week was fun.
“We did a lot of working out in the weight room and we just did skills and footwork out here with the ladders and we had that kids camp, which was pretty fun, getting the little kids excited for football,” Sarkesian said.
Rhoades he’s been really pleased with the effort of the Cowboys so far, particularly from the seniors.
After spending most of last season as interim head coach and winning three of their last four games, Rhoades’ interim tag was removed.
He said the head coach job is tougher than it seems.
“Starting the season is always tough, I mean practice is practice and it doesn’t make any difference if it’s a Wednesday or a Tuesday, Week 5 or whatever, so the organization of things is tough and I’m kinda figuring that out, it’s not as easy as it looks or as it may seem,” Rhoades said.
Last week he said he thinks the Cowboys can make it to the state tournament for the first time since for the first time since 2011. Two of their five losses to teams from their level were by 10 points or less last season.
“Coach Rhoades, he’s a great guy, he’s a great leader,” Garcia said. “I like him as a coach and I have a feeling he’s going to lead us to the playoffs. From the beginning of the season he’s been great, great to the team and everyone likes him.”
Camp Verde scrimmages against Scottsdale Prep on August 18 at home and then opens the season against Chino Valley on August 25.
“I love the guy, he’s one of my favorite coaches that I’ve had in any sport,” Sarkesian said about Rhoades. “He’s a really good role model for me, as a person and I’m just really excited to work with him for my senior year.”