About Utah: Farmhands find football practice is a breeze

Published: Friday, Aug. 17 2012 6:45 a.m. MDT

Duchesne High football players Kaden Moon, left, Josh Hanberg and Daniel Hanberg work on farms.

Photos By Lee Benson, Deseret News

DUCHESNE — >Know what they call football practice around here?

A break.

Not that anyone is suggesting Coach Jerry Cowan's practices aren't hard – that would be heresy – but when you've spent the day moving sprinklers and hauling hay and wrestling cows ...

As Kaden Moon, a senior who plays fullback and linebacker for the Duchesne High School Eagles, says as he piles out of a flatbed truck with hay still in the back, "football's a nice excuse to get off the farm."

Not every player on Duchesne's team lives, and labors, on a farm, but a lot of them do, including about 75 percent of this year's starters.

"Our entire starting offensive line is farmkids," Cowan says as pickup after pickup pulls into the school parking lot for evening practice that begins at 6. "They're already exhausted before they get here."

And when they do, he sends them to the weight room.

Duchesne's practice techniques, and everything else about its football program, have come under increasing scrutiny on account of the school becoming the Usain Bolt of Utah, small-school football. For the past two years, they've been uncatchable. Their 22-game winning streak entering the 2012 season is the longest in the state in any classification. It goes without saying they've won two straight 1A state championships. They won another one in 2006, and in 2009, they lost in the title game. Their record the last nine years: 76-29.

They've done it under a tag-team head coach. Cowan ran the program for five years, from 2003 through 2007, with Billy Hoopes as an assistant. Then in 2008 Cowan left coaching altogether and Hoopes took over. Two years later, Cowan returned and was Hoopes' assistant. This year, they've gone topsy-turvy again, with Cowan back on top, at least ostensibly.

"Doesn't matter who's called head coach," says Cowan. "We've got a good staff and we all work together."

Emphasis on "work."

When Cowan left those two seasons, he went back to Moab, his hometown, to take a job in a uranium mine running a jack-hammer.

Just let any of his players try and complain to him about sitting on a tractor.

The coach came back to football because, well, wouldn't you?

Not everyone on the team is a world-class worker. "We have slackers. I'm sure there's some who played Nintendo all day before practice," says Cowan. "But a lot of them have been working their hineys off all day, moving sprinklers, hauling hay, who knows what, and then they show up here and start lifting weights."

Farmstrong, meet footballstrong.

"They know our weight room is bottom line our No. 1 thing," says Cowan. "It's kinda addictive. I think the difference between us and maybe some others is our work ethic."

But it's a flexible work ethic. When the Eagles held traditional two-a-day workouts last week, they had to adjust the schedule to just one long morning one-a-day because of the county fair.

"A lot of them had steers and lambs they were showing," says Cowan. "In the afternoon and evening they had to be at the fair."

Or, in the case of junior quarterback Trent Roberts – who has jobs this summer as a hod carrier, a farmhand and a dishwasher at a local cafe – at one or the other of his three jobs.

Do that all summer, and algebra and English classes don't look so daunting.

Nor, for that matter, does the football season.

That's the fun part. You get to rack up all those wins, and on top of that, it gets you out of chores.

Lee Benson's About Utah column runs Monday and Friday.

email: lbenson@desnews.com

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