Photo by Wendy Howell.
It’s a mid-June evening on the Williams High School football field and the Viking’s football team is putting in sweat equity on the field as many of their peers are out enjoying the summer away from the school. Behind the players wearing sweat-soaked orange t-shirts, head
coach Jeff Brownlee revs up his guys with encouragement and direction as passing plays are discussed and honed.
“We have to share our kids with the basketball and baseball program,” Brownlee said. “We take this time to go over our passing game.”
Brownlee is finishing up a four-week session of a 5-on-5 passing league to prepare the Vikings for the fall football season. Groups of players from Bagdad and Mayer have joined the Vikings every week to run passing plays against each other.
And while the average big-school contenders like the large 6A Phoenix area schools use the summer to stay competitive, the summer program at Williams is about remaining in the championship conversation.
The Vikings went to the 1A State Championship in 2017, their first showing since 1993. The team beat Superior in the semifinals, but lost to Bagdad in the championship game.
With the smaller number of players than larger schools, Brownlee is using the time to create a culture of hard work and team spirit that will hopefully lead to big wins during the season.
“We try to get them lifting and running throughout the summer,” Brownlee said. “We’ve have had players in past year come in really out of shape. We don’t want to spend a ton of time getting the kids in shape when the season starts.”
Brownlee is working to overcome the loss of quarterback Martin Soria, who transferred to Mingus High School this year.
“There’s going to be a competition between Diego Pedraza and Kolby Payne for the quarterback position this year,” Brownlee said. “Unfortunately, Kolby broke his hand the last week of school, so he missed out a little bit.”
Brownlee said Pedraza struggled the first week with timing and hitting receivers, but improved in the first session. He said after the three weeks of the passing league, Pedraza is understanding the routes and speed of receivers better.
Brownlee said the passing league has also given them exposure to what some of the other teams have offensively this year.
“You do get to kind of evaluate other teams, their passing game a bit,” Brownlee said.
The Vikings will have a mini-camp July 10-13 for those interested in participating in football this season.
“I want kids to get in and get their physicals as soon as possible so we can get going,” he said.
Brownlee said players can get their physical paperwork from him or at North Country Health Care (NCHC). NCHC offers a $20 special rate for sports physicals for students.
“The season is coming up quickly,” Brownlee said.
The Vikings first day of official practice is July 24.