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Maricopa running back Mister Chavis picks up yardage against Gilbert High on Nov. 1, 2019, in Gilbert.

From the outside, it might look like the Maricopa Rams are at a disadvantage heading into the upcoming football season, but their coach doesn’t see it that way.

Just as teams from around the state were getting ready to start practicing, somebody at MHS contracted COVID-19, causing the entire football team, along with the wrestling team, to quarantine for two weeks. They were able to resume workouts Sept. 3, just in time for official practice to begin.

Coach Brandon Harris, while acknowledging the situation as less than ideal, said the good news is the Rams are healthy, and they had made so much progress over the summer that the two-week hiatus shouldn’t put them behind their competition.

“I think the kids have really done a better job than a lot of adults throughout this process,” Harris said. “They just want to get back to some semblance of normalcy with their lives, and they’ve worked hard to get there.”

To help in that, the coaching staff tried to make summer workouts as normal as possible, while complying with safety guidelines from health officials. Instead of their annual football camp in northern Arizona, the Rams stayed on campus and had “day camps” with almost full participation. This allowed the players to get quality time together following months of isolation.

During the few months following the shutdown, Harris said the players wanted to stay involved. He had to actually kick some off the field after spring break because they wouldn’t stop practicing. But they stayed in contact with the coaches through Zoom meetings, and when they were allowed back on the field, they showed up with great enthusiasm.

Harris admits he’s falling into the realm of cliches, but this summer has shown more than ever that a team can only worry about what they control. Along with everything going on with the pandemic, the program also could have moved up to 6A — along with all other Maricopa sports — but ultimately football remained in the 5A conference.

Then there’s the fact that less than a month before the season is set to start, the Rams still didn’t know who they were going to play.

Now they do. Their schedule includes traditional powerhouses like Scottsdale Saguaro and Scottsdale Horizon, along with very tough teams like Gilbert Campo Verde and Scottsdale Notre Dame Prep.

“The teams that we play, nobody plays a tougher schedule than us. Nobody, not Brophy, not Chandler, not Hamilton,” Harris said. “So it doesn’t matter to me who we play, or in what conference.”

When they do finally get on the field, Harris plans on surprising people with their style of play. He wouldn’t reveal any strategies to PinalCentral, but there probably won’t be as much throwing as recent seasons. As of mid-September, Harris was still deciding between four quarterbacks, all of whom bring something different to the table.

What he does have is plenty of running, led by star senior Mister Chavis, who is coming off a season with 779 rushing yards and five touchdowns. He will hope to carry the momentum from the season finale against Gilbert, where he rushed for over 200 yards, to a huge senior year. Along with Tyshaun Mooney and Kevin McIntosh, Harris likes the options at his disposal.

Harris anticipates defense and special teams being the immediate strong suits for the Rams, saying they have a lot of speed to cause problems for any opponent. There is plenty of depth there, he said, with a mentality of swarming the ball at all times.

Above all, Harris wants to have a program Maricopa can be proud of, especially during these times where some are looking for anything positive. He tells his players they have a responsibility few have, being the one team that represents a city this size.

“That’s an opportunity for you to win over your town,” Harris said. “And that’s pretty special.”

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