Cars and pickups were lined along the east side of the Portales Rams practice field as the sun started its climb into the blue eastern New Mexico sky.
“This is what we wait for all year, isn’t it?” queried one man to the guy next to him on a chair in the bed of a pickup.
Finally the source of the early morning gathering emerged in red and black jerseys and began to warm up. Just about that time a silage chopper motored past the field and the driver laid on his horn.
Players, parents and fans alike let out a cheer — football season in Portales was under way.
While it was just an intrasquad scrimmage to help coaches try and hash out individual performers, for the community, late summer workouts are the beginning of an activity that meshes the community together.
Tradition looms large in the Portales fieldhouse, where many of the coaching staff first donned pads. More than half the coaches, including newly named head coach Mark McAfee (class of 1981) are former Rams themselves.
“The red hat carries a lot of tradition here,” said McAfee, who replaces Andy Correll, who left this spring to take the head job at Vernon, Texas. “We’re proud of Portales High School football.”
McAfee said his seniors are stepping up in a leadership role and he credits their help with increasing player participation.
One of those seniors, Justin Strawn, has a Ram football tradition in his family. His uncle, Bobby Crane, coached a state championship team in 1988.
“It’s a tradition, a lot of us (my family) have played for Portales,” Strawn said.
Making sure other PHS athletes had a chance to experience Ram football was important to Strawn and other seniors.
“We felt like we needed more people out here,” Strawn said. “The more people we have out here the more competitive it is for a position. That’s good for the team.”
Senior wide receiver Jesse Blue was one of those who was recruited with a little extra effort. He’s a standout on the Ram basketball team but hadn’t gone out for football. Tradition is also a big part of Blue’s heritage with a dad and uncles who played for Portales.
“All my senior buddies were doing it and basketball seems like a job to me,” Blue said. “I wanted to come out and have some fun.”
Junior wide receiver Ryan Schmidt is thoughtful about the opportunity to play football for PHS.
“It means a lot to me,” Schmidt said. “I grew up watching everybody play here. Football means a lot to me. I think (the most important thing) is our attitude. Everyone wants to work out here.”
Schmidt and Strawn experienced being a part of the 2008 state championship Ram squad — Portales stumbled to an 3-8 record last year — and they want that feeling for the 2010 Rams.
“I’ve always been working toward a state championship since little league football. I think that has paid off,” Schmidt said.
“It’s a lot of fun to be top dog in the state,” echoed Strawn. “It’s a great feeling.”