By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
There's another member of the Mountain Pointe staff this season.
"If you want help, this is the guy," Kiefer tells his team at one practice, pointing to a tall man in shorts and a tee shirt. "Listen up."
Bruce Kipper steps forward. He counsels the school's athletes on academics and NCAA requirements.
"You guys aren't going to as much as sneeze without me finding out about it," says Kipper, a former professional baseball pitcher. "Character is going to count for a lot with recruiters. All you have to do is read the papers and see what's happening at ASU. You need to stay very clean. We have something special going on here. All it will take is one incident to tear it all down."
Mountain Pointe Field is packed for the season opener against the wonderfully nicknamed Yuma Criminals--the town used to house the old territorial prison.
The Pride march in a cluster from the locker room to the field. They stand under the same goal post from which Karl Kiefer had spoken to them a few days before about the beauty of Friday nights.
The team is quiet.
Suddenly, a cacophony.
The teen anthem "Welcome to the Jungle," by the group Guns n' Roses, blares over the PA system.
The Pride come alive.
The game is a seesaw battle marked by long touchdown runs and passes by both teams. Two exhilarating hours later, it's over.
Game four is as exciting as high school football gets. Favored Thunderbird High School leads by a touchdown with a few minutes to play. The two-minute offensive drill the Pride work on at practice is put to the test.
Quarterback Szanto gets hot, hitting 135-pound sophomore wide receiver Mike Collins with five straight passes. An unlikely hero, Collins had dropped a few balls in the scrimmage against Chandler and had lost confidence. Afterward, he spoke of "the big pressure" and resolved to concentrate more.
Jay Carter, completing a second straight 200-yard game, runs in for the winning score with a minute to go: 28-27, Pride.
The monster game of the season is at hand, a long-anticipated intercity battle against Kiefer's alma mater, Tempe High.
Local media have decided the 4-0 Pride are for real. The team hits the Top 10 in statewide polls. Local cable outfit ASPN televises the contest.
Mountain Pointe leads early, but senior-dominated Tempe scores twice late in the first half to take a 14-6 lead. Kiefer isn't given to Knute Rockne-like speeches at halftime, but he sounds a warning.
"We turn it up a notch--or else," he says. "You guys got a little intimidated. That's ridiculous. You'd better not let them score."
A gutty effort by Jay Carter on a fourth-down run with seven minutes to go brings the Pride within one point, 21-20. But the extra-point kick fails, and Tempe keeps the lead.
With the game on the line, the Pride defense stiffens and, like the previous week, the offense has a final opportunity. Down to possibly two plays, Kiefer calls for quarterback Szanto to throw deep.
Skeeter Brown sneaks behind two Buffalo defenders deep in the end zone. Szanto's throw is perfect. The game soon ends. Final score, Mountain Pointe 28, Tempe 21.
Forgetting his bad knees, Kiefer dances around the field with his assistants, hugging this player and that. During the celebration, he happens upon Carter, a catalyst in the Pride's improbable victory.
"Lot of heart, Jay," he says. "Lot of heart."
Kiefer knows it will be difficult for his kids to sustain their emotion after the big win over Tempe. His fears are justified in last Friday's game against Scottsdale Coronado.
Four straight turnovers lead to a 22-0 Coronado lead before the Pride touch the ball on offense. Mountain Pointe cuts the margin to 22-7 at the half, then to 22-10. But this time, the young team can't climb the mountain.
Several players are crying as the game ends, and the Mountain Pointe football team tastes defeat for the first time in its short history. The defeat has been a sound one.
Kiefer looks on, grim-faced, as his team salutes the Pride school band. He turns back to the field and watches Coronado celebrate its win. He trots over and compliments the Dons' star running back.
Everyone steers clear of the coach as he makes his way to the locker room. Not a good loser under any circumstance, he is infuriated by his team's effort. There will be many, many up-downs at Saturday morning's practice.
@body:Notre Dame went for a tie against Michigan. A tie! We'll never go for a tie here. We go for state championships.
--Karl Kiefer to his team
At the end of practice every Tuesday afternoon, the Mountain Pointe Pride push the Sled. No one on the team escapes this punishing exercise.
The Sled is a seven-man contraption that moves forward along the ground only with a strenuous, unified effort. The players take turns pushing it up a small hill and around the school baseball field. When one septet is done pushing, they immediately do a series of up-downs.
A player yells, "Push the Sled til you're dead."
The rest pick up the chant, sounding like Marine recruits.
Hobbling to keep up, Kiefer revels in his players' efforts. "Pride time, Pride time," he keeps repeating.
"This is what it's all about," he says. "I love it.