Anthem Prep begins 2nd season of football
MARC BUCKHOUT ~ MANAGING EDITOR ~ 8/31/2011
“Lions and tigers and bears, oh my,” is a line Mark Huston is hoping opponents of the Anthem Prep Academy will be uttering. While the line was made famous in the movie the Wizard of Oz, in which Dorothy claimed there was no place like home, Huston is hoping he has found 16 student-athletes who believes there is no place like the football field.
In just the program’s second season Huston, who played college football at Northern Arizona University and has run Let it Fly Football Camps, a youth camp in Anthem for several years, was tabbed to take the reigns of the junior high football team.
The school, which has already made a name for itself academically as Anthem Prep’s students scored higher on the AIMS test than students of any school in the Deer Valley District and outperformed all other Anthem schools, including charters, is looking to excel in the sports arena where they compete against other Great Heart Academy schools across the Valley.
Huston said his vision is that the students he is working with, who are all committed to academic success, will simply view the football field as a different kind of classroom.
“They’re sponges,” Huston said. “You can’t help, but be enthusiastic when you’re working with a bunch of kids that are receptive to learning.”
With practices that last only 75 minutes, and a number of players that are either brand new to football or only have limited experience Huston said he has tried to simplify much of the terminology.
On defense for instance he has given animal names for each position on the field with the middle linebacker being called the bear, a tip of the cap to legendary Chicago Bears player Dick Butkus. The defensive ends are called lions because they hunt in groups while the tiger is the nose tackle, because he hunts solo.
Justin Miley, 14, said the players, who have been practicing for two weeks, have taken to their new coach’s ways.
“Things seem a lot more organized,” said Miley who plays both defensive end and tight end. “We’ve been given a lot of information about the game. I think it will lead to us having more wins than losses.”
The team, which only has 16 players, will compete in an 8-man football league.
“What really impresses me about Mark is that he’s really patient,” athletic director Doug Pillsbury said. “He’s willing to work with kids of all levels, from the stars to the ones that have never played.”
Butch Bettag, who has worked with Huston for years, said he’s seen the coach really break down the nuances of the game to the kids.
“He found out that he really needed to start with the ABCs of football, but he does a great job of explaining things to the kids and they’re picking things up real well,” Bettag said.
Nick McHatton, a freshman, is playing his first season at Anthem Prep after spending a season playing with a local club team called the Wolfpack.
“This isn’t as serious,” he said. “I like to play, but that one it was three weeks of conditioning to get ready for the season where it was football, football, football.”
McHatton said he’s aware that last year’s team only won one game, but he’s convinced things will go better this season, perhaps a season labeled Revenge of the Nerds.
“Our coach, he is enthusiastic,” he said. “He sounds like he should be talking to college or NFL level players even though he’s talking to a whole bunch of nerds. We like it though.”
Fellow freshman Joseph Sessions, who will line up at quarterback despite never having played football before, said he doesn’t have any problem with McHatton’s assessment. We are a bunch of nerds,” he says with a laugh.
Could the team’s high IQs translate to executing game plans on the football field?
“Well some of us are smarter in the classroom than we are on the football field,” McHatten said. “I don’t know what to expect since I haven’t played. I’m pretty sure though that we’ll give it our all, be united and have a good time.”
The Anthem Prep Eagles play their second game of the season and their first home game at 9 a.m. Saturday at Liberty Bell Park, located at 40004 N. Liberty Bell Way, in Anthem.