There was very little leisure for Maricopa High School football players this summer.
“We call it ‘one heartbeat;’ it’s kind of the analogy we use. We all have to work in concert for it to work.” — Coach Brandon Harris
New head coach Brandon Harris ran practices every morning, five days a week. Many nights were filled by 7-on-7 tournaments. Two weeks before the first day of school, the team left to its annual football camp in Winslow.
The coaches spend more time with athletes than ever before, Harris said, a practice in measuring the team’s pulse on – and off – the field.
“We call it ‘one heartbeat;’ it’s kind of the analogy we use,” Harris said of the team’s culture. “We all have to work in concert for it to work.”
When they weren’t running drills, teammates worked in unison fundraising for the program. They were coached by Harris on representing the school and the city well, he said.
The kids reportedly received compliments on their polite behavior during car washes and other engagements where athletes and coaches introduced themselves to the community.
“We are working smart; we’re working hard,” Harris said.
This summer, athletes hit the weight room after their meals – an intake of protein and carbohydrates developed by coaching staff. And while participating in any activity together, Harris only allows uplifting communication between the group.
“We don’t coach from any negativity or fear because fear is very close to hatred and you can’t play well with either one of those feelings,” Harris said.
Harris is an experienced leader on the gridiron, having previously coached championship high school state team sand collegiately.
His goal is to reinvent the Rams, who will sport redesigned uniforms, into a team that not only wins games, but wins in life.
New district Athletic Director Jacob Neill likes the approach.
“If you have a high level of participation and you’re successful in what you’re doing with the kids in your program, it’s going to ultimately have a positive impact on the culture of not just your athletics program but your entire school,” Neill said.
In 2016, Neill left the district after working four years as head basketball coach at MHS. He was the AD and assistant principal of Poston Butte High School in San Tan Valley before his recent return to Maricopa.
That experience has lent well to the football program under Harris.
“First of all, he’s a former coach,” Harris said of Neill. “He’s been doing this awhile and he gets it.”
While the Rams work to recreate themselves and improve upon last year’s 6-4 record, the team is also adjusting to a new, competitive region.
Harris said the team had “flashes of spectacular play” against opponents in the 5A San Tan Region during the 7-on-7s this summer.
But Neill and Harris agreed the region will be a great test for the program that is still developing its pulse.
“We are a team that’s loaded with a lot of players and talent, and now it’s just a matter of us putting that talent to use,” Harris said.
All varsity games at 7 p.m.
Aug. 17 vs. McClintock
Aug. 24 @ Millennium
Aug. 31 @ Apollo
Sept. 7 @ South Mountain
Sept. 14 vs. Central
Sept. 21 vs. Higley
Sept. 28 @ Campo Verde
Oct. 5 @ Williams Field
Oct. 19 vs. Casteel
Oct. 26 vs. Gilbert
This story appears in the August issue of InMaricopa.