Surrounded by the clanging of weights and skipping of jump ropes, Corona del Sol’s elder stateskids talked about the past.
They were not exactly thrilled to be doing it. It’s not easy. No high school football program in Arizona has — whether self-induced or not — been through the ringer like this one.
The tangible results of the past two years are a 5-16 record, the retirement of hall-of-fame coach Gary Venturo, two independent, equally messy investigations involving his replacement, Zane Zamenski, a 1-10 season in 2010, Zamenski’s dismissal and the hiring of former Mountain View coach Tom Joseph.
That’s five victories and three coaches in 16 months.
“It was an experience I’ll never forget,” senior running back/linebacker Zack Hamm said. “You can learn a lot from the bad, sometimes more than the good.”
Senior lineman Andrus Peat called it “kind of a disaster.”
Through these weeks of spring practice and without many “knowns” in its depth chart heading into fall, there’s optimism and stability on the corner of Rural and Knox in Tempe.
It’s not the 2010 hopefulness of we-have-no-choice-but-to-try after the first Zamenski investigations involving lewd comments toward players and others on campus eventually proved accurate, but he kept the job anyway.
This year’s kids know Joseph’s history. State championships, regular playoff success and a winning percentage that approached .800 in nine years at Mountain View.
The kids consider Joseph to be old school. He doesn’t run spread offenses and demands the kind of discipline in spring drills, weight room and them as kids, that most hadn’t seen here before. His voice quickly raises to an authoritative tone and volume, but he’ll only use four-letter words found in the Bible, and even that’s rare.
“I can tell we’re going to have a better year just from spring ball,” said Peat, who has nearly every big-time Division I college in pursuit.
That shouldn’t be too difficult. After beating Desert Mountain in overtime to begin 2010, the wheels, axles, shocks, spark plugs and engine fell off. Three losses were by a touchdown or less. Seven were pretty much blowouts. They were also undisciplined and, according to a couple kids, periodically lacked drive and effort.
“Looking back, 10 straight losses was demoralizing,” Peat said. “Especially with some of our talent, and we were outplayed.”
Enter Joseph, who acknowledged feeling refreshed by his change of address and the chance to help transform kids he feels sympathetic toward given the past couple years of upheaval.
Hamm noted some warmup exercises “can take an hour,” because they start over if kids mess up the drills.
“If it’s easy, it’s probably not helping much,” Joseph said.
Spring practice ends this week, but there’s plenty more work coming, both in the weight room and the mental and psychological approaches to football and the real world Joseph wants to instill in these kids.
Plus most of Joseph’s one-liners and dry humor still fly over his kids’ heads.
“He came in and knew what he was going to do right off the bat,” Hamm said.
Though every school eventually does it, there’s been no talk of win-loss record, region championships or even setting playoff goals.
That’s a good thing these days.
“If you talk to them how you would want to be, it’s pretty easy,” Joseph said. “They’ve been kind of permitted not to work hard and get by. It’s not OK, not here and not in the real world.
“They want to be good, they don’t quite know the ‘how’ part yet. They need to be pushed.”
Joseph and his staff — a couple assistants from Mountain View, a couple from the Venturo era and one or two more Joseph is taking his time in finding — have no problem doing that.
He’s done it as well as anyone for as long as anyone.
“We’re not going to be 1-10 again,” Hamm said. “In all honesty, I don’t have a doubt we’ll be much better. It’s a whole different ballgame.”