Rim Country Middle School seventh-grade football coaches Jon Gunzel, Jimmy Oestmann and Pat Stone are doing a remarkable job keeping the team together, playing well and winning.
With only 11 athletes on the roster, it's tough to practice and prepare, let alone challenge opponents who have three times more players.
Somehow, someway, the coaches have maneuvered the outmanned team to an undefeated record (5-0) while battling the adversity of having athletes fall by the wayside because of a variety of injuries and academic ineligibility.
Facing the challenges the Mavericks have taken on this year might have crushed the resolve of some coaches.
Last season at Rio Rico High School, coach Steve Saben and school officials canceled the varsity football season partly due to a lack of players.
Gunzel, Oestmann and Stone are frustrated by the low turnout, but they've enthusiastically led the charge to play each White Mountain League game on their schedule.
A difference of opinions between coaches and parents following a narrow win over St. Johns had some parents nipping at the staff.
To the coaches credit, they realized parental second guessing goes with the job. Concerned but undaunted by the criticism, they continued to coach their hearts out.
Some words of praise also need to be directed toward the young players who have remained on the squad. As athletes, most are not the biggest, strongest or fastest in the White Mountain League.
Tiny tailback Ben Sandoval is an example of one who plays with great heart. He runs through the line of scrimmage with reckless abandon seemingly unaware he is knocking helmets with opponents 20 to 30 pounds heavier than he.
Also to the players' credit is the resiliency and cooperation they've shown when asked to play a variety of positions.
Watching the youngsters is a reminder of what the great sport of football should be about.
It's not about fame, lucrative contracts and adulation from the public as the antics of some pro and college players lead impressionable youngsters to believe.
It's about great effort, commitment, enthusiasm, and achieving goals.
A quote from legendary coach Vince Lombardi sums up the seventh-graders' attitudes best: "If you believe in yourself and have the courage, the determination, it is essential to understand that battles are primarily won in the hearts of men."
The RCMS players include Kyle Stone, Logan Garner, Justin Jumper, Schaffer Keith, Chance Sylvester, Devin Swapp, A.J. Rose, Omar Guera, David Weaver, Dutch Wallace and Ben Sandoval.
If you see any of the players or coaches around town, give them a healthy pat on the back for a job well done.
The Punkin Center Bar will host the Gila County Showdown 8-ball tournament beginning at 1 p.m., Oct. 10.
Registration begins at noon and the format will be double elimination. The event is to be hosted by the Arizona Gila Billiards League. The entry fee is $10 and there will be cash payouts for first through third places.
The bar is located on Highway 188 in Punkin Center.