There’s the team Robert Huizar coaches.
Then, there’s the team Robert Huizar coached.
If there was ever a time he could morph one with the other, it would be this year. The number of players wearing helmets and pads for the New Mexico School for the Deaf football team is as small as it’s ever been – six.
That’s the exact amount of players needed to field a 6-man football program. It’s just not the ideal number to field a successful football team. Huizar, who has been a coach at NMSD for 19 years and head coach for 15, says it’s been 15 years since he had a roster this small.
“I was telling them they have to keep themselves healthy, stay out of trouble and protect themselves during the games,” Huizar said. “Can’t have guys get hurt. I’ve played with six, seven players [as his primary players] before, but not without subs.”
Contrast that with who is helping Huizar with his team this year. His assistant coach is A.J. Williams, the former NMSD quarterback who led the Roadrunners to the 6-man championship in 2006. Current students Ty Wilding and Immanuel Neubauer — neither of whom can play because they were ruled ineligible by the New Mexico Activities Association — are also volunteering their time to help the team.
Even assistant Bill Jacobs has football experience, playing for the Texas School for the Deaf and collegiately at Gallaudet University.
Those two players alone would make a big difference, just from a depth standpoint. Instead, they offer advice and encouragement to the current crop of Roadrunners. Still, when those players are used in drills and scrimmages, Huizar gets a good look at how his team can compete against the top 6-man teams this season.
“If they can do good against them, they can hold on against a real team,” Huizar said.
The bigger question is, “Can the program sustain itself with dwindling numbers?” Five players graduated, while two others sit on the sidelines from a team that had 13 players and reached the 6-man semifinals.
The middle school program, however, is not churning out players like it did in the past. Huizar points to the elementary school program that is going strong, but those prospective players are at least three years away from making it to the varsity level.
In the meantime, Huizar and his six-pack of Roadrunners are trying to lobby the rest of the students to play football. So, far, their pleas have gone unheeded.
“I’ve tried,” said senior Fernando Silva, who returns to the program after sitting out a year because of poor grades. “One guy, I did convince [to come out]. Then some other guy, I tried to convince him, but he didn’t want to get hit hard. I said, ‘You’ll get used to it. We’ll start soft, then you get use do to it.’ But that’s the way things are.”
The casualty will be games, of which there already was one. Saturday’s game at the Arizona School for the Deaf and Blind was cancelled because NMSD did not have enough players to compete in an 8-man game, which is what ASDB plays.
The razor-thin margin for injury hasn’t diffused the enthusiasm on the field. Huizar is impressed with how quickly the team has learned his offense and defense. It gives him hope this team can compete against some of the top teams in the 6-man division.
“We’ve got some skill,” Huizar said. “They’re not as bad I thought they would be. Their attitude has been great. Every day, they are improving.”
It helps that he has a few players returning with some experience. Silva played quite a bit as a sophomore in 2011. Mark Chavez has the most experience on the team, with 229 rushing yards and four touchdowns in 2012.
Junior Kendrick Skeets saw limited playing time, but he will see his playing role expand. Then again, every player’s role will expand with no bench. Perhaps it will be a good thing for the Roadrunners.
“A lot of these guys are so committed,” Skeets said. “They are so strong. There is none of that, ‘I don’t want to play hard.’ We’re so consistent that we are going to get better.”
Regardless of how the season plays out, Huizar can take pride in the attitude and dedication of the players he has this season. It might be the only thing that has translated from season to season.
New Mexico School for the Deaf
Head coach: Robert Huizar (15th season)
2012 record: 9-2 overall, 3-0 District 2. Lost to Lake Arthur 60-20 in the 6-man semifinals.
Sept. 5: at Roy, 5 p.m.
Sept. 21: Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind, 2 p.m.
Sept. 27: San Jon, 3:30 p.m.
Oct. 4: at Hondo, 6 p.m.
Oct. 11: at Vaughn, 1 p.m.
Oct. 18: at Animas, 4 p.m.
Oct. 25: Reserve, 1 p.m.