Published: September 18, 2013
Playing football for the Manitou Springs High School team has taken on an extra dimension this season.
"I'm always on my phone, looking at the radar," Mustangs junior running back Morgan Burnell said. "When we see dark clouds, we always wonder if it's going to dump on us, if we'll be able to practice so we can be ready for Friday."
Burnell echoed the sentiments of an entire community, helplessly placed in the path of devastating floods as a result of the burn scar left by the 2012 Waldo Canyon fire.
Last week, persistent rains caused U.S. Highway 24 to close multiple times, forcing the team to cancel football practice for three days leading into Manitou Springs' league opener Sept. 14 at La Junta. The Mustangs, seemingly unprepared and far from home, somehow found an extra gear and scored the game's final 21 points for an impressive 42-21 win.
At 7 p.m. Friday, the Mustangs hope to give their home fans a break from real-world worries brought on by last week's record-breaking floods when they host longtime rival St. Mary's (0-3, 0-1).
Manitou's achievements in the face of troubled times haven't gone unnoticed.
"They didn't practice for three days and still looked tougher than ever," St. Mary's fourth-year coach Nic Olney said. "There's a lot to be said for that. With the adversity they overcame last week, there's a lot be said for the community of Manitou."
Mustangs coach Danny Gieck, a 1988 Manitou Springs graduate, has pushed the right buttons but is hesitant to take much of the credit.
"I think the kids are very resilient," Gieck said. "I think this probably bothers us adults more than the kids. For the most part, everyone is in the same boat and they come to practice like any other day. They focus on what we need to do and not to make excuses."
Given the events of last week, the excuses of not being able to practice might have been acceptable had Manitou come up short, especially to a La Junta team that won the last home game two seasons ago.
But Burnell and his teammates collected their thoughts, remembering it wasn't just about the jersey, but the fabric of the town in which they represent.
"The first half, we weren't together," Burnell said. "We came together as a family in the second half, not arguing back and forth. Everything we've gone through has brought us together as a team and family. Just being able to play for our community, through tough times, makes us want to win more. We want to represent Manitou and show people that nothing will knock us down."
Olney concedes that his St. Mary's team will be playing much more than just a football team on the other side.
"I guarantee that the whole town will be there in full force," Olney said. "It'll be a great atmosphere.
"Football can be very therapeutic after all that's gone on. This game has always been a great battle between two teams with a lot of history."