--Sign in the locker room of Tempe Mountain Pointe High School
Karl Kiefer's kids kneel around him under the west goal post at Mountain Pointe Field. "Closer, closer," the coach grunts. "Family. Family. Together."
Three dozen teenage boys form a clump of sweat and stink. They have just completed a series of practice-ending sprints, dubbed "gassers." But Kiefer isn't done with them yet.
The afternoon practice in 105-degree heat hasn't been as crisp as he would have liked. Already, the team has paid with a more-than-usual number of "up-downs--arduous dives into the turf in full gear. Over and over.
"The history of this school is being built by you right now," Kiefer starts, gazing down on his troops. "What you do this year will set the tone for what happens from now on. There's pressure, sure. We are under the microscope of the entire community."
The 53-year-old coach squints through his eyeglasses into the late-afternoon sun blazing over South Mountain. He has been in this situation before, thousands of times. After almost three decades, Kiefer's timing is as good as a topnotch actor, preacher or salesman.
"I love stress. There's nothing like high school football, not college, pro. Nothing! You'll be back watching games when you're done, I promise you. This field is a beautiful place on Friday nights. Beautiful!"
His players stare up at him with a mix of reverence and apprehension. The coach isn't a lovable guy, but "Kiefer's Kids" would run through walls for him. They are white, black and Hispanic, sons of the well-to-do and of single moms who can't afford to buy football cleats.
Pugnacious in appearance and manner, the granite-jawed Kiefer looks, sounds and acts like a football coach. In a world of doubt, he feels and exudes certitude. He believes in his team, his family, his God and in trying to kick his opponents' butts.
"Don't have cliques," he warns in a stark Arizona twang. "Be family. Football is your business together. If you go to the JV game this week, sit together. If you have to bring girlfriends, I guess that's okay. But keep them on the outside."
Many players chuckle softly. The coach is being serious, but he doesn't mind hearing his guys laugh--at the right time and place.
"Remember, men, no statements," Kiefer continues.
Everyone here knows what that means: no earrings, gaudy jewelry or wild attire. No long hair. It means that on the day before games, all players wear uniform jerseys to school. On Game Day, they wear shirts and ties.
No exceptions. No statements.
"If you're caught, you can forfeit your right to be on this team. We will play the role to the hilt of an excellent football team. That's your statement."
Kiefer is finished. His players jump to their feet. Enmeshed, they thrust their right fists toward the big, blue sky.
"One-two-three. Mountain Pointe Pride!"
@body:If we lose even one game, our family and fellow students will jump on us. But we play because we love to play.
--Mountain Pointe linebacker Uriah Stricker
Karl Kiefer chats with assistant coaches Phil Abbadessa and Dick Baniszewski on their way to the locker room. The three are as anxious as the players to get the season under way in a few days.
Kiefer is a legend in this state. His football teams have won more games than those of any active coach in Arizona. He's already in the state's High School Coaches' Hall of Fame, and is four victories away from becoming the winningest Arizona football coach ever.
But Kiefer etched his sterling record of 218-73-3 at Tempe McClintock High School, a few miles away. Now he's coaching at a new school for the first time since Barry Goldwater was running for president and the Beatles were doing Ed Sullivan. He started at McClintock in 1964.
Mountain Pointe is about to start its first season of varsity ball. Located in the bedroom community of Ahwatukee, the school is in its second year of operation and doesn't have a senior class yet.
"Kiefer's Kids" will be going at it with sophomores and juniors against other teams' seniors.
"Just a few days, guys," Kiefer tells his colleagues, both of whom once played football for him at McClintock. "A few days."
@body:We've always been kind of by ourselves out here, out of sight, out of mind. The school and the team give a central focus to the community.
--Jane Hickman, Ahwatukee resident and vice principal at Mountain Pointe
A faceless sprawl of tract homes, golf courses and strip malls, Ahwatukee is separated from the East Valley and Phoenix by I-10 and South Mountain. The area numbers about 40,000 people, including adjacent subdivisions.