A small roster, smoke in the air and the lingering uncertainty of COVID. None of that is anything new for Denair football Coach Anthony Armas, who faces many of the same challenges this fall he’s successfully dealt with in the past.
- Twenty varsity players? What Denair lacks in numbers it makes up for in grit and determination. In the last two full seasons played in the fall (2018 and 2019), the Coyotes won two Southern League crowns, a state title and lost in the Sac-Joaquin Section championship game.
- Smoky conditions caused by California wildfires? Armas has become a pro at checking an app on his phone that shows him air quality before practice. If the air is unhealthy, he’ll adjust.
- Pandemic impacts? Though Denair struggled to a 1-4 record last spring when COVID concerns delayed the season, Armas and his players recognize and accept the precautions that must be taken to avoid the virus. No one complains and no one takes unnecessary risks.
The season begins Friday night at home against Vacaville Christian. Kickoff is 7:15 p.m. at Jack Lytton Stadium.
It will be the seventh opening night as head coach for Armas, who has built the Coyotes into a perennial contender in the Southern League despite have fewer players than most opponents.
“The roster is a little small, but we’ve had smaller,” he said. “I think we’ll be fine going forward, assuming nothing catastrophic happens with injuries or COVID.”
Like most years, the Coyotes will rely on a core group of talented players who will be expected to play major minutes on offense and defense. That was an issue last spring, when Armas said too many players were out of shape because of the delayed season, but he doesn’t expect it to be an obstacle now after a regular summer workout schedule and full complement of practices.
Three key returnees, a talented sophomore and a couple of basketball players playing football for the first time in years will be counted on to lead Denair on both sides of the ball.
Senior Connor Prock is a three-year starter at linebacker and tight end. He is the only member of the state championship team still on the roster. Senior Colton Webster will anchor the lines at center and defensive tackle, while junior Chris Hernandez – who made honorable mention all-league in the spring – will start at offensive tackle and defensive end.
Armas said sophomore Hunter Kincaid has been impressive at fullback and linebacker. He will be joined in the offensive backfield by two stars from Denair’s Southern League championship basketball team – seniors Jack Henderson and Mario Plascencia. Henderson, who last played football as a freshman, will run the Wing-T offense at quarterback while Plascencia will get plenty of carries as a running back.
Armas said having so many players going both ways can be a challenge in practice as well as during games. The Coyotes often do drills with their JV team so they can a full complement of 11 players on each side of the ball, but they split up when it comes to scrimmaging.
“We tone down tackling because we have to stay healthy, but we still have to have some physical contact to get ready for games,” Armas said. “We push the kids, but they need more breaks than if we had more players. It’s our seventh season, so we’re getting used to it.”
During games, Armas said that “every now and then I have to burn a timeout just to give the kids a break.”
“If we think we’re getting a little gassed, if we’ve had a long drive and we have to go on defense, I’ll call a timeout,” he said.
After Vacaville Christian, the Coyotes have an unusual opponent for their second game. They will travel to Sparks, Nev., to play on Aug. 27. Why go so far?
“We’re always trying to do some special stuff,” explained Armas, who routinely plans a summer trip to Disneyland with his players to build camaraderie. “A few years ago, we were looking to travel. We were trying to book a game with South Tahoe, but it fell through. We ended up with Sparks instead.”
Denair finishes the preseason at home Sept. 3 against Franklin of Stockton, then kicks off the Southern League schedule two weeks later at home against Ripon Christian.
The Southern League was split for the spring schedule. RC played against other schools in San Joaquin County, while the three Merced County schools – Gustine, Le Grand and Delhi – stayed in their region. All of which leaves Armas a little uncertain about who the best teams might be this fall.
“I have no idea,” he said. “It doesn’t change our goals. We want to make a playoff run and get a blue banner” signifying another Section title.