LAS VEGAS - Jeff Decker played on a field that wasn’t synthetic, put on his shoulder pads in a locker room that was surrounded by steel cages instead of polished pine and had his head shot in the team program if it got back from the printer in time instead of on every recruiting website.
And yet the 1987 graduate learned to “Carry On” as all Mesa Jackrabbits do.
“These are different times, aren’t they,” Mountain Pointe’s defensive coordinator said after he and the Pride had dinner at the Barry Sollenberger Classic banquet on the $96 million campus of Bishop Gorman. “We’re not just cramming in a small bus and heading few miles to play our rivals anymore.”
High school football has become big business and the Pride got a first-hand look at what it is like to be part of it the last few days.
The team boarded cushy charter buses on Wednesday and traveled to Sin City to open the season against the Gaels. Both teams are nationally ranked and the game was part of one of the first live broadcasts of the new Fox Sports 1 channel.
What the audience saw was an impressive 28-21 win by Mountain Pointe, but the behind the scenes stuff that only the players and coaches saw up close and personal leading up tp the game was just as memorable.
“I’ve never seen anything like this complex,” said Pride assistant head coach and offensive coordinator Eric Lauer, who grew up in the football haven of Pennsylvania. “We are blessed to be part of something like this as these kids will remember this forever.”
The Pride practiced at Faith Lutheran High, a private facility with top (but not over the top) of the line facilities. They stayed at Palace Station Casino, were they were treated to buffet meals, hung out at the pool, had some study tables, and snack time.
It’s a heck of a way to start arguably the most anticipated season in the history of the program.
“We couldn’t ask for anything more,” Pride coach Norris Vaughan said. “We have been treated tremendous. I can’t thank Faith Lutheran and their football program enough for letting us use their facilities.”
The game on Friday night was the centerpiece of the trip, but hardly the only highlight.
The four teams, including Henderson Liberty (Nev.) and Tucson Salpointe Catholic, got together for a banquet on Thursday night where the players from each team sat with players from the other teams.
“It was quiet at first,” Lauer said. “Everyone was eating and keeping to themselves. But then they started sizing each other up a little and they got to talking. I’m sure some of the conversations were pretty interesting.”
Gorman junior offensive lineman Travis French said his table worked things out after awhile.
“It was different at first, sitting with people you didn’t know, but no one was cocky or anything,” he said. “It’s a cool thing. You got to hear a little about all of the teams and stuff.”
Pride senior long snapper and defensive lineman Mitchell Fraboni said one of the best things about it is the fact he can say he played on national television. It looks like he will have a chance to play college ball somewhere, but chances are it won’t be at a program that plays in front of a big television audience.
“My family, no matter where they are at, will get to see me play this game,” he said. “We will always be able to say we had that chance.”
The impact of not only this game, but the whole trip, will be something when they are old and slow they will always be able to say they shared as a team.
The Pride have some highly recruited players who will go on to play at tremendous football programs and play in bigger, more visible games.
Then there’s the other 97 percent who will never play again after their time with the Pride is done. These guys have bonded in their hotel rooms and not just because they were forced to or risk breaking the tape that was put on the door to make sure they didn’t come out after curfew.
The Pride of 2013 will eventually get a banner in its newly created football-only locker room. There’s no telling what the final game will read. The belief is it will be a win in the state championship game, but that’s three months in the making.
Regardless of how the season plays out, the first game listed on the banner will be remembered as the time Mountain Pointe went national.
“It won’t be so much about the wins and losses but the guys I got here with,” senior running back/linebacker Trey Lauer said. “To be able to travel to another state with my teammates and be part of something like this is pretty big.
“These are the people, my teammates, my coaches, who support me hard when I needed it and they will always be part of that memory.”
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