Eagles finally ready to soar as football returns to Navajo Prep
FARMINGTON — A lot has happened in the world since Nov. 1, 2019.
The Navajo Prep football team had no way of knowing that fateful day more than 21 months ago, when they went on the road and beat Cuba by a final score of 38-14, would be the final game the Eagles would play for nearly two full years.
As the Eagles prepare for their 2021 season opener Friday, Aug. 20 at home against Monument Valley, Utah, coach Rod Denetso feels as if his team has a lot to prove.
"Like any coach, I expect us to win every game," Denetso said.
The 2020 football season came back in abbreviated fashion this past spring for other schools, but it never got off the ground for Navajo Preparatory School. Their season was cancelled last February due to the Navajo Nation's stay-at-home order which effectively prevented the school from holding any sports events at that time.
That order was later rescinded in time for the school to have a boys and girls basketball season, but the decision brought the football program to a grinding halt.
"It was a weird situation for us, because even though we're in the City of Farmington, we're on Navajo Nation land and we had to abide by their laws at that time of the shutdown," Denetso said. "Everyone else got to play so it was disheartening for our kids."
The time away from the football field was fuel for those coming back to play this season, according to Denetso.
"The time off gave them time to learn to not take football for granted. It made them appreciate football and going to practice, because it could be gone at any time," Denetso said.
That motivation has been evident in early practices and gives Denetso reason to be optimistic as opening night approaches.
"We should be fine in terms of experience," Denetso said. "We have a number of returning players on the offensive and defensive lines who have been with us since they were freshmen, and we should be solid up front."
Denetso is encouraged by the enthusiasm he's seen from his players at practice.
"They're enjoying it, they're not discouraged by the events and disappointment of last year," Denetso said. "We're working the kids hard and they're out there doing all the work."
Even with the enthusiasm on the practice field and with the expectations of a new start, there are still some hesitations with just days before the opening kickoff.
"It's hard to hear it but some kids still don't want to come back, because their parents or those close to them are still dealing with underlying health issues," Denetso said. "But we're in a unique situation because we have residential facilities for the kids. We created a bubble and the football players stay together."
The numbers have been encouraging as far as the roster is concerned, with 27 players currently on the active roster and more on the way.
"Of course, we'd love to have more, but we're just not there yet," Denetso said. "We're still behind a little bit compared to other schools, but out of those kids who are here, we have some solid players."
Dayton Yazzie will be a major contributor up front on the offensive and defensive lines, as well as James McGrady, who will play tight end on offense as well as middle linebacker. Kyler Clitso is expected to be a huge factor from the running back position as well as on defense at the outside linebacker position.
Denetso was also quick to point out likely starting quarterback Dontrelle Denetso, who will be helped by an experienced group of players around him.
"These kids are really hungry to get out there," Denetso said. "The main thing for us is that they're remembering how to enjoy the game again and I think we'll get better every week."
The Eagles compete in Class 3A, District 1, which includes Newcomb, Tohatchi and Zuni. Tohatchi went 5-0 in the truncated season, which wrapped up with a 34-20 win at Gallup last April, while Newcomb lost all four of their games last season by a combined margin of 113-20. Like Navajo Prep, Zuni did not have a football season last spring.
Navajo Prep Eagles 2021 Football Schedule
(All games on Friday)
Aug. 20 — Monument Valley at Navajo Prep
Aug. 27 — Navajo Prep at Wingate
Sept. 3 — Escalante at Navajo Prep
Sept. 10 — Navajo Prep at Crownpoint
Sept. 17 — Navajo Prep at Ignacio
Sept. 24 — Navajo Prep at Cuba
Oct. 8 — Espanola at Navajo Prep
Oct. 15 — Navajo Prep at Zuni
Oct. 22 — Tohatchi at Navajo Prep
Oct. 29 — Navajo Prep at Newcomb
Steve Bortstein can be reached via email at SBortstein@Gannett.com, via Twitter @DTSBortstein or on the phone at (505) 635-2680.