Tri-Valley’s first football players in school history played their first snaps Friday at the Fairbanks Youth Soccer Association turf fields in the local six-team scrimmage known as the Jamboree! but the students from Healy weren’t representing the Tri-Valley Mustangs; they were representing the Monroe Catholic Rams.
Talk about a joint team began during winter after three students from Tri-Valley expressed an interest in playing high school football and half of Monroe’s 18-man roster from 2018 were graduating. Because only 10 Monroe Catholic students signed up to play football in 2019 — one short of the number necessary to field a team — the schools depend on each other.
Unsurprisingly, the merger doesn’t come without complications, the most obvious being the schools are more than 100 miles apart.
“Two hours up here, two hours back,” said Tri-Valley junior David Smith, who will be making the the four-hour round-trip journey three times a week when the school year begins Aug. 19.
“Once the school day ends, we are immediately leaving, and then we will have time to do our homework in separate classrooms during the school day.”
The Tri-Valley squad will also host its own practices earlier in the week when possible to avoid unnecessary trips. The trio will Skype on Mondays to watch film with the team and lift on their own, and on Tuesdays they will have their own practice focused on conditioning and drills. Travel days will be Wednesdays, Thursdays and Friday game days.
“It’s been great while we haven’t had school,” Rams head coach Marcus Cogley said. “They’ve been staying up here with us and we have a coach letting them stay with him. … It’s going to get a little bit more challenging, but as of right now, things are going swimmingly.”
In addition to comprising a team of athletes from two schools, Cogley faces additional challenges as the Rams head coach. While larger schools in Fairbanks, such as Lathrop and West Valley have their own youth football teams so athletes can become exposed to the game before high school, Monroe, a small private school, hasn’t had the interest to build a youth program of its own. As a result, when many of the players sign up, they are new to the game. The Tri-Valley players are included in that group.
“As a coach it’s great because you start with someone who has never played before and, by the end of the season, you’ve seen how much they’ve grown, so that part is really rewarding,” Cogley said. “But it takes a lot of time going over the fundamentals — what are the positions, we had to explain what a penalty is, very basic stuff.”
Cogley is also relying on leaders on the team to help show the Tri-Valley and newer Monroe players the ropes.
One of those leaders is senior Jordan Higbee, who was asked to transition this year from wide receiver to quarterback.
“I’m trying to get every position down so I can help everyone out as best as possible, so if they have questions in the huddle I can answer them quickly,” Higbee said.
Friday’s Jamboree! was the first time the Rams played against an opponent because it doesn’t have enough players to have its own scout team.
“The speed of the game is a lot faster than going against the trash cans, huh?” Offense Coordinator Wayne Webb said after one of the scrimmages.
In addition to winning games, a goal for the Rams this season is to build more interest in the student body, so Monroe can continue to field a team.
“We want to do everything we can to keep the program. … We’ve tried to hold camps in the past and that is something that we need to work on bringing back more,” Cogley said. “And then one of the things that would be incredible is if we had one of those youth teams and if we could get a system in place.”
But for now, with the help of Tri-Valley, Monroe Catholic football lives on in Fairbanks, and the Rams aren’t taking it for granted.
“It means everything to us … just keeping the team alive is what’s important,” Higbee said. “They came and fit right in … and we are a family already … they’re basically just like us.”
Contact News-Miner sports writer Laura Stickells at 459-7530. Follow her on Twitter:@FDNMsports.