On a sunny afternoon on the east end of downtown, Palmer High running back/cornerback Joshua Johnson is filled with hope.
It’s an unlikely hope, a hope that easily could be mocked. In other words, it’s the best kind of hope.
As Johnson stands in the middle of the Palmer practice field, he’s surrounded by his teammates, who are tackling and blocking and, hardest of all, believing.
Palmer’s football team has fallen and long struggled to get back up. The Terrors have lost 54 of their past 65 games and been outscored 264-30 in five losses this season. They allowed 36 points to Doherty ... in the first quarter. It’s been a long, brutal ride.
Here’s where the unlikely hope arrives.
Johnson, a senior, believes better days are ahead, even though he realizes he will not be wearing a Palmer uniform when those days arrive.
When will those better days arrive?
“If everybody here works to their full potential, I give it a year or two,” Johnson says without hesitating.
Coach Tom Reber ignores the odds, too. He's an unabashed believer in the future of Palmer football.
In the offseason, Reber saw the Palmer job was open. To most eyes, the program was in tatters after a 1-9 finish in 2016. Reber saw a vastly different image.
He saw the chance, in his words, “to do something really special.”
He still remembers the moment he saw the job opening.
“When I saw the posting, that was one of the few times in life when you just know you are the guy,” Reber says. “I was just drawn to it. It felt like a place that I needed to be.”
Reber earns his living as a business coach. He’s positive. He’s energetic. His right forearm is emblazoned with the word, “Motor.”
“That’s just my personal mantra on how I approach life,” he says. “I motor. I motor hard against obstacles and I work to be uncommon in everything that I do.”
Don’t worry: He’s also a realist. He knows he’s the fifth Palmer head coach since 2010, and he realizes the immense challenge of changing loser to winner. Attitude is important, he says, but more than an attitude change will be required for Palmer to start winning football games.
“It’s going to take a lot more than just hope and positive thinking to build the type of program that we want to build here,” he says. “It’s going to take a lot of work. It’s a process.”
The Terrors lost to Denver South, 56-12, Friday afternoon and will be serious underdogs this week to Coronado. Palmer has scored a total of 12 points in the first half this season. It’s difficult to overstate how bleak the recent past has been.
Still, the tone at practice is upbeat. Players say “yes, sir” to Reber, and a tackling drill is vibrant and vigorous. Friends/teammates are having a good time during a bad season.
Quarterback/safety Willy Davenport is not filled with gloom. He’s enjoyed the 2017 season.
“Even though we lose a lot, it’s fun,” he says. “I would rather lose with the team that I love than lose with a team that I don’t like.”