Residents of Flagstaff are used to being serenaded to sleep every night by a train-horn lullaby.
However, as the clock ticked past midnight on Sunday (Aug. 4) and Monday (Aug. 5) arrived, there was a different sound.
So what was the deal with the whistles?
At 12:01 a.m., the first allowable practice time for most of Arizona’s high school football teams, Flagstaff High coaches and 52 players began their journey toward the start of the 2013 season.
The scenario was a bit unusual, to say the least.
First of all, the practice was at Coconino High, Flagstaff’s cross-town rival. Flagstaff does not have a lighted field, but it received district approval for the practice a few months ago.
Also, while much of the state was roasting in temperatures near triple digits, the thermometer in Flag rested comfortably in the mid-50s, according to veteran Flagstaff coach Ed Campos.
“The practice was very positive. There was a lot of excitement and enthusiasm,’’ Campos said. “The players got all of their paperwork in, had taken their physicals and paid their fees. It was a real motivator for our program.’’
Campos said the team received support from the school’s administration and others in the community. Quite a few parents were on hand, along with a handful of Flagstaff police officers. They weren’t so much worried about the players being out past curfew as they simply were being curious.
Even Campos’ wife, Darlene, was up to speed – sort of. She has seen a lot during her years as a coach’s wife, and due to the fact that their son, Jay, is the head football coach at Tucson Sabino.
This was a bit different. With Ed’s schedule turned upside down, he said she sleepily mumbled something to the effect of, “Have you lost your mind?’’ as he walked out the door at 11:30 p.m.
Since schools are not allowed to be in full pads for the first week, the Eagles were in helmets, shirts, shorts and football cleats. Coaches set up cones for agility drills and brought other equipment along for the ride.
The practice, used primarily for conditioning, wound up with relays at around 2:15 a.m.
Campos said the players were just as enthusiastic as they were a few hours earlier.
Flagstaff won four straight titles from 1981-84, but that was a generation ago. How long ago? Well, current Flagstaff principal Tony Cullen played on the 1981 team and was Homecoming King.
The program fell on some lean times and is showing signs of coming back. But Campos, who was a JV coach at Coconino back in that day, rarely uses that as a motivation. He points to a culture change, that these student-athletes are paving their own road, learning the value of hard work and self-discipline and how it can help them in the future.
Two players who lead in that area are senior slotbacks-inside linebackers Nick Ondrejech and Mike Salazar.
“They are ones who believe, who are helping with that change in culture,’’ Campos said.
Campos will run a wide-open offense led by quarterback Kyle Wilson, who passed for about 1,600 yards a year ago and who is a capable runner. The defense will be led by coordinator Rudy Baca, who has coached just about every sport at FHS and already has his players fired up.
Encouraging signs, Campos said, are the fact that the offense went from averaging 11 points per game in 2011 to 34 in 2012, and the defense giving up about 30 points a game in 2011 to 9 a year ago.
Flagstaff opens the season on Aug. 30 against Phoenix Central in Northern Arizona University’s Walkup Skydome. The Eagles will play in Division III, Section IV along with Prescott Valley Bradshaw Mountain, Coconino, Kingman, Cottonwood Mingus, Bullhead City Mohave and Prescott.
It was nearly 3 a.m. by the time Campos drove home from his team’s midnight run.
He smiled and thought to himself, “Did we really just do this?’’
Indeed they did. The Eagles were back on the field Monday afternoon at 4, wide awake and ready to go.