Shiprock High football looking to get back to winning ways

Steven Bortstein
Farmington Daily Times

SHIPROCK − The Shiprock High School football team has faced more than its fair share of battles, on the field and off, in the past couple years.

The pandemic shut down the program, as well as the school for months, causing the team to lose dozens of players. When the 2020 fall season was cancelled and pushed back to the spring of 2021, the team was only able to fill just 33 roster spots.

Head coach Anthony Clah knew the task was going to be difficult coming out of the pandemic, and his worst fears were realized when he had just enough players on the active roster to field a team when the fall 2021 season was getting underway.

When that season began, a short supply of active players forced the Chieftains to forfeit a game against Crownpoint in week two on the way to a winless season after nine games. In that season, Shiprock scored a total of six points while allowing 427. Clah cited the lack of younger players from which to draw.

"That season was a tough one for us," Clah said. "We had no junior varsity or middle school program to pull kids from, and we don't have a youth football program in Shiprock, so we ended up having kids who had little to no experience playing football out there."

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Shiprock High School quarterback Tyrese Bruce (1) looks for room to run during a game against Tohatchi on Saturday, March 13, 2021.

As the Chieftains turn the calendar and look ahead to a hopefully brighter future on the field, Clah is seeing a resurgence in participation on the practice fields this summer.

"We're starting to see that spark a bit more," Clah said. "I think we're seeing more interest in the game and some of the kids really want to get out there."

During a series of 7-on-7 drills held last week at Shiprock High School with football players from Cuba High as well as Kirtland Central and Newcomb, Clah noted that the turnout was strong and there seemed to be a genuine purpose for returning the Chieftains to their winning ways.

"I think we're a little ahead of schedule at this point in changing the mindset of the program," Clah said. "The culture of what's been done in the past versus what we're trying to do going forward. Going into the summer and adding to the experience level, that's what we needed to do."

The 2017 season was the last time the Chieftains found themselves in the playoffs, winning District 1-4A with an overall record of 8-4 before being knocked out in the first round of the Class 4A state tournament. Since that time, Shiprock has won 10 games and lost 24.

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The Chieftains will play as an independent this season in Class 4A, meaning they won't compete with the likes of Gallup, Kirtland Central, Bloomfield and Aztec in the district standings. Their schedule, which opens with a road contest Friday, Aug. 19 against Tohatchi, will focus more on restoring the program to its earlier success.

"We make our own schedule and not worry too much about what level the other schools are," Clah said.

Shiprock will still face off with rival schools like Gallup and Kirtland Central but those games will not count in the district standings for either team. The Chieftains played the 2018 season as an independent and finished with a record of 2-8.

"We made contact with the schools we wanted to play and just worked out a schedule," Clah said. "The kids and the parents, really everyone involved, were just looking forward to the season."

Some of the top performers expected to compete this season are seniors Jarvis Begay and Cudia Tihe, who are both expected to make an impact on the field.

"They all have a bad taste of what happened last season, and I think they're motivated by that and I'm expecting them both to have big seasons," Clah said.

Shiprock’s Trevor Etcitty cuts up the middle on a kick return against Navajo Prep during a prep football game at Eagle Stadium in Farmington.

Tihe and junior Austin King will split time at the quarterback position for the moment while also playing multiple positions throughout the season.

"They've both worked really hard and been a part of the system for a long time now," Clah said. "I expect them to both have productive seasons."

The Chieftains will host their first home game of the upcoming season on Friday, September 2 when they face Cuba. For more information on the Shiprock High football team, check out their official page on Maxpreps.com.