New group leading Cyprus football revival
Magna • Pick up the 45-pound plate. Lift it high above your head, locking your elbows. Lunge up the stairs, ignoring your thighs as they scream in protest.
At Cyprus High, this is called the "Pirate Booty." More whimsical in name than practice, it is the football team's newest method of punishment.
"After you do that once, you don't want to miss practice no more," quarterback Dennis Kamakana says.
The Pirates lost all nine of their games last season, being outscored by 236 points through that span. That faceplant of a campaign, which followed a pair of two-win seasons, can be traced to basic roots: lack of practice.
Then-head coach Brian Jacketta hadn't led Cyprus to much success over his first two seasons, but there were glimmers of hope heading into 2011. After a 13-game losing streak that started on Sept. 18, 2009, the Pirates posted back-to-back wins near the end of the season: a 1-point win over Granger and a 5-point win over Murray two teams that had combined for four wins before facing Cyprus.
But three or four games into last season Jacketta's last it became clear the tide wasn't turning for the 4A squad. Many seniors started treating practice as optional. They wanted to enjoy their last year of high school, and if they weren't going to go to the playoffs, well, what was the point?
"They showed up whenever they wanted, did their own thing," Kamakana says. "Our head coach last year, he didn't set that standard as 'You're not gonna miss practice.' This year, it's a lot more strict."
Under new head coach Scott Wooldridge, who relocated from Nampa, Idaho, the Pirates again have reeled off back-to-back wins. The victories are far more convincing this time around, if no less indicative of the team's long-term future: a 14-7 win over Murray in the season opener impressive primarily because Cyprus came back after fumbling on its first drive and surrendering the game's first score and a 28-0 win against Tooele.
Tooele is coming off its own winless season, but that victory set a milestone: It was Cyprus' first shutout since 2007. The Pirates have been blanked seven times since.
If change is coming, much of it starts with Kamakana, the dual-threat quarterback whom coaches have called the backbone of the offense. He was thrown into the starting lineup three games as a sophomore, replacing Austin Henry the senior who had beaten him for the job during two-a-days three games into the season.
Those seven games were a struggle for Kamakana, each successive week feeling like a cruel repetition of the last. He tried his best to stay upbeat and said he learned from the experience. This season, he opened with a 144-yard performance, completing 10 of 14 passes and the go-ahead touchdown. Last Friday, he threw for three more scores.
With the burden of the losing streak gone, the Pirates are starting to believe again. With every game, the worry of past years' struggles lessens.
"You could see it a little bit [in the first game]. 'Oh no, here we go,' " Wooldridge says. "I think they have that. â¦ There's a little bit of it that still says, 'Can we do this?' There's that little, little bit of a question, to them also: 'How good are we?' "
Wooldridge has high hopes for his team, but says it still needs to find its identity. Granger, a 5A team that won its first two games by a combined 59 points, visits Cyprus at 7 p.m. Friday.
Will the Pirates be ready? They'll at least be well-practiced.
Pirates looking to plunder on gridiron
Cyprus endured a nine-game winless campaign in 2011, entering this fall with four wins over three seasons.
Under new head coach Scott Wooldridge, the Pirates have opened this year with back-to-back wins.
Quarterback Dennis Kamakana has thrown for four of Cyprus' six touchdowns.