Heritage Academy Maricopa football

Heritage Academy-Maricopa football players practice on their new field.

The Heritage Academy Heroes were supposed to start their football program a year ago. However, construction on the new school’s campus fell behind and students were forced to go to class in unconventional places like a movie theater. Coach Daniel Ramirez, who had just been hired to lead the program, didn’t want to put his players at such a disadvantage where they might get hurt, so the season was called off.

Now, though, Heritage has a new football field being used almost everyday to build up this program out of nothing.

“Having the field, getting the helmets, getting the uniforms, it’s feeling real like it’s going to happen,” Ramirez said. “Then of course there was the situation with COVID, but we’re still out here everyday and getting better.”

After already having a season taken away a year ago, fears of a similar situation were strong as uncertainty over how the pandemic will affect the fall sports season kicked in. Ramirez said it was hard to convince all the players to come out for a new program given everything, but eventually the number grew.

Ramirez coached under Tracy Stuart at Vista Grande for five years before becoming an assistant at Marana, where he still helps out when he can. He also has experience in Maricopa, coaching at Desert Wind Middle School. So when he heard about the program starting at Heritage, he saw it as an opportunity to get his first varsity head coaching job.

He’s excited about Heritage being a grade 6-12 school, as that will allow him to provide some guidance for kids when they are playing flag football at the junior high level, so by the time they get to high school they’re ready to contribute.

That of course will take time. For now, a lot of the players on the team are new to the sport. They will be playing 8-man ball, which is new for Ramirez. He said at the end of the day, it’s all about blocking and tackling, no matter how many guys are out on the field.

There’s also only one senior on the team, so Ramirez is more optimistic about the long-term future of the program. As for this season, there simply is no way to tell how the games are going to go. He likes the athleticism he’s seeing from a lot of the players, but it’s unclear how that will translate once a game whistle blows.

No matter what, taking that first step on the football field is a big enough accomplishment for this new school. They hope it’s the beginning of something big.

“At the end of the day, football is just a little piece of what we’re trying to accomplish here,” Ramirez said. “We preach to the guys that character is a big part of not only the football team, but also the school. The rules are a little more demanding here.”