SHIPROCK — The Shiprock Chieftains won't be the biggest or strongest football team in District 1-4A, and first-year head coach James Snyder is fine with that because his team may be the quickest.

"We're young and gifted," Snyder said. "We've got a lot of quick guys. We don't have a lot of big guys, which is OK. The early assessment is we have a very bright future here, but it's going to be a process."

Part of the process will be getting stronger. But while adding strength and bulk will take time in the offseason, Snyder plans on taking advantage of the tools the team currently possesses — quickness.

Shiprock head coach James Snyder works with his team on Aug. 18 during football practice at Chieftain Stadium in Shiprock.
Shiprock head coach James Snyder works with his team on Aug. 18 during football practice at Chieftain Stadium in Shiprock. (Jon Austria/The Daily Times)

"Our goal is to take what we have and squeeze every drop out of it. And what we have is a lot of really quick kids, and that's the style that we'll play to," Snyder said. "It's about positioning and getting to the right spots, and that's playing to the kids' strengths. We're not going to be the biggest or strongest up front, but with the proper footwork, we'll be able to fit where we're supposed to fit."

After the Chieftains' first scrimmage, the players are starting to find their spots in the new offense. Junior wide receiver Irwin Holiday, who Snyder plans on lining up at multiple positions to take advantage of his speed and athleticism, said the offense is starting to work as a single unit. The quarterbacks are getting the ball out quicker, receivers' route running is sharper and the offensive line is improving on blocking schemes.

While mistakes are still being made, Snyder sees them as learning opportunities for the team.

"It's almost like we need to make some mistakes in order for it all to come together," Snyder said. "I'm seeing more and more where the kids are realizing what it is we're looking for them to do, but we had to make those mistakes and kind of mess up to help everyone realize that. But I think it's all going to come together. I'm waiting for that week in practice where it all makes sense."

Holiday shared Snyder's assessment of the team, saying the team is young and needs a few weeks to acclimate. But based on the improvements he's seen in practice, Holiday said he has no doubts that by midseason, when the Chieftains enter district play, they'll be ready.

The team wants to win this season, but Snyder and his players realize the bigger picture is building a program that is competitive year after year.

"You can hear people talking about wanting to win the district and make it to the playoffs," said junior linebacker and center Zander Dale, who transferred from Window Rock, Ariz., to Shiprock, where he is originally from, this season. "But for me, it's just about taking steps to help establish a legacy and be recognized as a football team."

And establishing that legacy starts with Shiprock's first game, when the Chieftains will travel to Silver City to face the Fighting Colts, a team that was in a position similar to the Chieftains a few years ago.

"I'm really excited for the first game, especially being against Silver," Holiday said. "A lot of people told me how a few years ago Silver was like us, a young team, trying to build a good team for the future, and now that's us, that's our challenge. I know that we're going to be a good team. We're not going to go out and play like garbage. We're going to be good, and I have no doubts. I'm ready, I know the other guys are ready and the coaches are getting us ready. I'm excited for it."

Karl Schneider covers sports for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4648 and kschneider@daily-times.com. Follow him @karltschneider on Twitter.