Pusch Ridge quarterback Greg Schimke earned a foxhole promotion at halftime of last year’s Week 2 contest against archrival Northwest Christian.
The Lions didn’t know what to expect. Schimke — stoic until prodded — contained his butterflies and assumed his commission, nearly flipping the 26-21 loss.
“I was stunned. I couldn’t believe I was going in,” Schimke recalled. “But I’m not nervous before games anymore.”
Amassing 1,700 passing yards last season, Schimke (6’ 0”, 170 pounds) turned into the Lions’ rock. Now the energy and optimism at Pusch Ridge’s practices feels distinct, especially after a 2007 first-round playoff win at Red Mesa — a key vibe when enrollment hovers around 260 students.
Exuberance fuels small-school programs’ competitiveness with fresh players and full bleachers, said first-year head coach Bob Vance.
“You’ve got to talk to the kids and sell the program,” Vance said. “Fortunately, we’re got a great legacy left from Coach Brittain.”
After ascending from the junior varsity squad, Vance inherited eight returning starters that include senior running back Andy Knox (6’ 1”, 175 pounds), who projects end zone visions when musing this year’s offense.
“(Schimke will) be able to hit all of us,” said Knox, a first baseman during the spring. “He knows the plays backward and forward.”
Senior lineman Daniel Simmons (6’ 5”, 240 pounds) returns to anchor the Lions’ defense. Simmons said last year’s playoff run rubbed off this year’s weightlifting turnouts, as the Lions no longer hope to win — they expect to.
And though Pusch Ridge’s family-atmosphere traditions are nothing new, the squad assumes a fresh dimension when playoff-hardened guys like senior lineman Matt Baquet (5’10”, 185 pounds) start spouting phrases like, “The Focus, the Fellowship, the Brotherhood.”
All that’s left for the upperclassmen is to prime the first-year guys for gridiron realities.
“If they’ve already played football, they know what it is,” Simmons said.
“Otherwise, you go out and dial them in after the first hit,” Knox added.
Pusch Ridge Christian Academy
Region: 2A South
School Colors: Sapphire blue and Vegas gold
Bob Vance, first year
Previous: Coached Pusch Ridge junior varsity squad
Aug. 24 Benson L 8-7
Sept. 7 at Northwest Christian L 26-21
Sept. 14 Baboquivari W 61-0
Sept. 21 Joseph City W 41-34
Sept. 28 at San Carlos W 51-0
Oct. 5 San Manuel W 25-21
Oct. 12 Miami W 47-12
Oct. 18 Ray W 56-14
Oct. 25 at Hayden L 27-21
Nov. 2 at Red Mesa W 13-12
Nov. 9 at Arizona Lutheran L 42-7
Sept. 5 Valley Union
Sept. 12 Northwest Christian
Sept. 19 at Baboquivari
Sept. 26 Superior
Oct. 3 San Carlos
Oct. 10 at San Manuel
Oct. 17 at Miami
Oct. 24 at Ray
Oct. 31 Hayden