Already, it has begun. Football is back and its past is in the air. What gave it away was the smell of fresh-cut grass, the early morning air that some teams such as Lake Arthur see as the mist of darkness gives way to morning light as they stand on the field ready to do their drills. Maybe it was the popping of pads as the athletes hit the sleds and tackling dummies. Maybe it was the live drill when a receiver was hit going across the middle.
Yes, it is one of the reasons Lake Arthur football coach Jose Porras practices at that time when there are no doctor appointments, meetings — unless there are emergency room visits — or anything else to break the concentration of his football players. Porras wants to make sure there are no excuses for why an athlete cannot play if he desires too. He also wants to beat the oppressive heat.
To Porras, playing in small-town football means something to him and the kids from that area. His first six-man championship came in 1993 as a player, with him graduating in 1995. Porras tries to instill the feeling of love for competition, sacrifice, hard work and dedication to team and self.
For him, those are the life lessons Porras believes in. These lessons he teaches every morning at 6 a.m., he believes it will make a young man successful in life. Getting up early to go to work, to practice day after day, when they don’t feel like it or they’re tired and stiff.
To stick with it and continue to do their best when they are getting beat. Porras tries to teach his kids they may get beat this game, but it doesn’t have to be that way when they play again. Those are the things that sports teaches the athletes at places like Lake Arthur, so he feels if he can get those lessons across, that’s life.
“Those kids that come out know what it takes to be a champion,” Porras said. “They know what it takes to get there, especially being a part of a storied program that Lake Arthur is. When I won my first championship as a coach, it was an “awe moment” from the standpoint that we knew what it took for the kids to get here. We beat a team in 2007 that beat us the year before. In 2001 and 2002, lost in the championship game.”
Some of Lake Arthur’s athletes have to work to help support their family. It’s important that they can be a kid and play a kids’ game and yet know the responsibilities of being an adult. Sports is so important to a community such as Lake Arthur with 103 students, tops, and that is K-12. In this little town the nearest gas station is 8 miles away in Hagerman. Artesia is 15 miles, with Roswell being 40 minutes away.
“I think sports is one of the things that brings the community together,” Porras said. “They look forward to coming out on Friday night to cheer those kids on. The town has been really supportive, especially when we haven’t been winning for the last two years. The town knows that the kids are busting their tails and putting in the effort.”
This town is a throwback to an earlier time in the history of New Mexico. It doesn’t have a lot of high tech equipment, they don’t have security walking the halls in school and classes might have as few as four students in them.
For schools like Lake Arthur sports is needed in those small communities. Sports ties bind this community. This year, the team has 10 players coming out for football and one of the players’ first practice was on Wednesday with a game in two weeks.
Lake Arthur is so small they cannot get enough kids to consistently come out to play eight-man or 11-man football. The team would like to be able to find enough kids to renew the rivalries with Gateway Christian, Lake Arthur, Melrose and Hondo, but they don’t have enough kids year-in and year-out to field a team.
“I can remember those games,” Porras said. “Those fans from both teams when we played used to bring their lawn chairs. Gateway Christian had Brent Green as their coach. We used to have shoot-outs and whoever had the ball last would have a chance to win. Great times and games.”
Conditioning is the key for smaller teams with fewer players — they have to be in shape. One year, Lake Arthur had exactly six players to play six-man football. The team stayed relatively healthy that year. Six-man football is rapidly becoming one of the most exciting football leagues around in high schools throughout America. ESPN did a feature on six-man football in Texas last year.
These athletes that play six- and eight-man football may or may not lack the talent to play with the bigger schools, and it doesn’t matter because it would be supposition, which is for barbershop talk. These athletes should be lauded for their dreams, goals and desires to win and be a champion every bit as much as a Goddard or Roswell championship. If one looks at the New Mexico Activities Association, the record book says class, champion and team.
Oh, by the way. Porras translated six-man football into an athletic scholarship as a kicker for New Mexico Military Institute and then Panhandle State in Oklahoma, so it is possible to achieve and play at the next level coming from a small school.
“The reason I coach is not to win championships,” Porras said. “My job is to show young men they have what it takes to have a good life. Everyone has to start somewhere, I show them that I made it out and they can, too. All they need is the opportunity and work ethic.”
Lake Arthur looks to improve on a two-win season last year. They hit the road to open up against Elida at 7 p.m., on Friday.
Sports editor J.T. Keith can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 304, or firstname.lastname@example.org.