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Coyotes aim for another playoff run despite thin roster
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Jacob Zensen leads the Denair High offense during a practice last week. Hes part of a Coyotes team that sports a thin roster. - photo by CHHUN SUN / The Journal

DENAIR — Inside his office, Denair High football coach Therion Gregory was fixing a helmet for one of his players. His office sits right next to the school’s football field, so on this day, he has a clear view of his team practicing. At the moment, the Coyotes were stretching.

What else did Gregory see? He saw at least 40 players in practice uniform (not including the ones who couldn’t make it to practice), but there was a catch. About half of them belonged to the junior varsity squad. Gregory’s varsity team makes up the other half — a number that barely creeps into the low 20s. (The Denair JV team has 32 players.)

Yes, this is a small school, but Gregory and his coaching staff were expecting to have a bigger team roster. As it is now, he has 23.

“And I’m counting the kicker,” he said, with a laugh.

He was hoping for a roster in the high 20s, a figure that the Coyotes usually work with. He understands he has a small-school team, therefore he has to deal with small-school numbers, but he didn’t expect this: One player is injured and at least a couple decided not to go out for the team. At the same time, Gregory’s been a part of the program for 20 years (this is his eighth as the head coach), so a team with a low number of participants isn’t anything new.

In fact, he said, he has coached teams with fewer than 20 players.

The biggest problem, he said, is having enough to practice with. And that’s why he has to include the junior varsity players when the Coyotes are working on offensive and defensive schemes — to simulate real-game situations. As for game days, all he needs is 11.

“I think the game is still played with 11,” he said, tongue-in-cheek, “so I think we’ve got a chance.”

This season, he returns some proven players. Jim Atkinson is entering his second season as the starting quarterback, and he will play alongside some familiar faces in running back/linebacker Bryce Melrose and linebackers Zak Bailey and Brad Tobin, and James Behrens. Xavier Vallez and Everett Wagner are varsity newcomers who are expected to contribute to a Denair team that is coming off a season in which the Coyotes finished 6-5 overall and 5-2 in the Southern League before making back-to-back appearances in the playoffs.

“Though we’re short on numbers,” Melrose said, “I think we’ll do pretty good. We have to come to practice every day, working hard, working on plays and getting things done.”

To contact Chhun Sun, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2041.