Thursday, Sept. 22, 2011 | 2 a.m.
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Las Vegas Sun sports reporters Ray Brewer and Case Keefer engage in a wide-ranging high school football conversation. In addition to their usual recap and upcoming picks, they discuss the area's best kickers.
On a side wall in the Cheyenne High weight room hangs a tribute to the former players in the football program’s hall of fame.
There is a portrait for each of the athletes whose performances helped the North Las Vegas school become one of the Las Vegas Valley’s most feared teams.
The group of 11 includes former NFL players Ed Hartwell and DeShone Myles, one of the program’s best all-time athletes in Lawrence Turner, and arguably its best player in lineman Lynn McGruder.
Looking at the tribute while training is a constant reminder to players on the current team of the legacy of their program and what they are striving to achieve. And although the days of long playoff runs and intimidating the opposition appear to be long gone, the efforts of three current players are starting to resemble those of the legends of yesteryear.
Fittingly, the trio wear jersey Nos. 1 to 3.
“Not only do I want to be on that wall and make it big, I want my teammates to be on the wall, too,” said Counts, the senior leader who is averaging 7.4 yards per carry.
Lewis, a speedy junior who missed last year with an ankle injury, has been the most productive of the group. He rushed for 215 yards and three touchdowns two weeks ago in an overtime victory against Cimarron-Memorial, and had 280 yards and three touchdowns last week in a 40-point win over Virgin Valley.
Several of Lewis’ touchdowns have come on long runs, breaking free for scores of 76 and 80 yards against Cimarron, and 76 yards against Virgin Valley.
When Lewis is outracing the defense to the end zone, Spight and Counts are sharing in the excitement. The three say there is no jealousy about stardom or rushing attempts with the trio — it’s all about returning Cheyenne to its spot among the valley’s elite.
“We all block for each other, so if Myloe breaks one, I feel good because I helped on that play,” said Spight, one of the team’s most physical players.
Before their struggles the past two years, including missing the postseason last year for the first time in more than a decade, the Desert Shields were a team nobody wanted to meet in the playoffs. That included perennial power Bishop Gorman, whose dynasty could have been even more impressive if it weren’t for Cheyenne.
Gorman has won three of the past four state championships, but in 2004 and 2006 was eliminated from the playoffs by Cheyenne. In 2004, Gorman had DeMarco Murray (now with the Dallas Cowboys) and Ryan Reynolds, who were two of the best players in Las Vegas the past decade, but still couldn’t defeat the Desert Shields.
“People forget about those years when we were beating Gorman,” Cheyenne coach David Cochran said. “A few years ago we were beating all (the powers) on a regular basis. These kids just want to show up and perform. That’s always been the mentality here. It doesn’t matter who shows up on game day to play us, they just want to play.”
Gorman had to rally against Cheyenne in the 2007 playoffs, closing the game with 43 unanswered points to erase a 16-0 deficit in starting its state title streak. The following year, Gorman escaped with a 37-36 victory against Cheyenne before losing to Palo Verde — Cheyenne’s longtime nemesis — in the Sunset finals.
It’s too early to tell if Cheyenne will be in the mix this fall, but its rushing attack the first three games is reminiscent of past successes. Against Virgin Valley, the trio of backs each had more than 100 yards rushing, while Lewis has at least two touchdowns in each game.
“We have some of the best backs in town,” Lewis said. “(The first three games) have given us a lot of confidence, but I know we really haven’t done anything yet.”
At Cheyenne, accomplishments are still measured with playoff victories and with the weight-room tribute to the stars of teams past.
“When I look at those pictures behind me, I could see those players worked hard to get where they are now,” Spight said. “If they didn’t make it to the NFL, they are out there working a successful job. That’s what we all want. That is why we are working hard.”