Chaparral is hitting its stride this season at the perfect time.
The Firebirds (7-2) are coming off a big win against Pinnacle last week and key players have settled in after returning from injuries as the playoffs approach.
“It’s a very, very unique situation,” Chaparral head coach Brent Barnes said. “To get them all back at roughly the same time and now have a couple weeks under their belt going in to the playoffs is huge. We’ve got to keep those guys healthy to make a good run, but that’s a very unique situation to have all those guys out and also coming back at the same time.”
THE INJURY BUG
When Chaparral matched up with rival Saguaro in September, the Firebirds were without an unprecedented seven starters, four of who will be Division I players next year.
Quarterback Jack Miller, an Ohio State commit, missed all of September with a shoulder injury. Miller returned in the second week of October against Boulder Creek and had his best game in over a year last week against Pinnacle.
Wide receiver Tommy Christakos, a Cal commit (hip flexor) and defensive end, Jaxon Richards (knee) both missed the first three games and started easing back into things against Saguaro.
Tight end Jack Helsten was out with a calf injury until mid-October and linebacker Cade Fredrickson is still getting back from a knee injury he sustained in the second game of the season.
“The one positive thing about those injuries is we knew all of them were going to come back,” Barnes said. “They were all injuries that they needed to recover from, so we knew we just needed to buy some time.”
The Firebirds have been able to buy enough time to get some of their key players healthy, but will still not play a game this season with a full squad, as more injuries have plagued the team.
Two weeks ago junior wide receiver Max Minor sustained a collarbone injury that will keep him out the rest of the year.
TJ Ritter, Chaparral’s starting right guard, who also played some center when starter Brian Groeger was sidelined, may be out for the season. Last week, junior receiver Capri Hamilton left in the first half with an AC sprain and is out indefinitely.
“Usually you get the first game or two in before you start dealing with injuries,” Barnes said. “We didn’t get that so we’re not going to play one game with all of our full roster, or at least even just our starting lineup that would have been in the preseason. That’s unfortunate.”
DEPTH AND A NEW PERSPECTIVE
In the midst of being without their star players, the Firebirds were able to develop some guys who would not have gotten playing time otherwise.
One of those players was backup sophomore quarterback Brayten Silbor.
“Brayten probably benefitted the most out of anybody to have those weeks to play and have a guy like Jack to kind of lean on and talk to about things,” Barnes said. “Jack was a great encourager of what Brayten was doing. He’s one of his biggest fans. When you have a guy like that, that makes a big difference.”
Miller said that being sidelined and watching Silbor gave him a different perspective that he feels has helped him in his return.
“When I was hurt, to just kind of lead the team from a different standpoint and kind of watch everything, it seems like everything slowed down a little bit,” Miller said. “I feel like I’m better than I was before I got hurt and I feel like coaching up Brayten and looking at everything he did helped me a lot too.”
Christakos’ injury helped him realize how much he took being able to play football for granted, he said.
“Being on the sidelines for four or five weeks, was really painful and really frustrating, but I realized how much I love this game and how grateful I am to play it,” Christakos said. “I’m 100% and I know this team is 100% after a win like that last Friday. We’re just ready to carry that momentum on.”
With the dynamic duo of Miller and Christakos, as well as Richards, Helsten and Fredrickson, back on the field, the Firebirds are ready to finish the regular season strong against Liberty on Friday and make a big push in the playoffs.
“Everything happens for a reason and I think that shows now more than ever,” Miller said. “We’ve got pretty much all of our guys back, we’re healthy and we’re going to be ready to go for the playoffs. It’s big.”
You can catch the action LIVE on Friday, Nov. 1, 2019 at 7:00pm PT/10:00pm ET on Cox (Ch. 1004 PHX, Ch. 1007 Tucson) or at yurview.com/live.