ARCO – It’s a cool afternoon in Arco and the new Lost Rivers football team is hard at practice at Butte County High.
Skill players run through their drills, mixing in the occasional pass with a combination of power and deceptive running plays that are a staple of 8-man football.
At one end of the field, the linemen work together on blocking schemes. Near the far end zone, a group of junior varsity players work out.
It’s a sight not many small 8-man teams get a chance to see, but with 30-plus players on the roster, the Pirates are enjoying the opportunity for a full-on practice.
But there’s more to Lost Rivers than just a new name and a full roster. The Pirates are a co-op between historic rivals Butte County and Mackay, with players from both towns combining to form Lost Rivers.
Some in the respective communities roughly 30 minutes apart may wonder how players from two fierce rivals can manage to play on the same team and why is this even necessary?
“It’s not a big deal for us,” said senior Jacoda Whitworth, a Mackay student who plays running back and defensive back for Lost Rivers. “I think it’s more the people that had the rivalry before us. They had a rivalry. We’ve just kind of been friends and been able to get past that.”
Several of the Butte County and Mackay players were teammates or played against each other in youth leagues. They were reunited this year when Mackay had a low turnout for its football program. Butte County coach Sam Thorngren and Mackay coach Travis Drussel spoke last season about co-op opportunities, but this year it became a reality when only a handful of players came out for the Mackay team.
Mackay, which reached the second round of the playoffs last season with only 14 players, joined up with Butte County and the Lost Rivers Pirates were created.
“The kids that are here wanted to play football and this was the only opportunity,” Drussel said, noting the rivalry theme may be overblown, at least for this team.
“These kids have taken to each other from Day 1 and been great teammates,” he added. “It’s no big thing to them. They just want to play football.”
Seven players from Mackay decided to join Lost Rivers. The coaching staff is split with four Mackay coaches and four from Butte County.
Aside from the rivalry talk, it looks like the combination of players has created a pretty good team.
“The first day of camp, we hit it off,” Mackay senior Sereck Peterson said.
“It was a little weird for the first week or two, but I’ve known those Mackay boys since I was a little kid, so now it’s just like they’re family,” added Butte County senior Brady McAffee.
The co-op did come with commitments. Practices are typically at Butte County High early in the week and at Mackay on Thursdays. The game schedule is also split between the two schools. The commute could have proved a challenge, but that’s not the case.
“Winning kind of cures everything,” Whitworth said.
He added that the rivalry aspect of the co-op wasn’t as problematic as it could have been.
“There are good athletes on both sides,” Whitworth said. “We played each other before and we just respect each other so we knew we could have a pretty good team if we combined.”
“We were excited (about the new players) because last year our biggest problem was depth,” Butte County senior Sage Cummins added. “This year there was a lot of competition for spots … We’re more diverse, with speed guys, big guys.”
The depth allows players who would normally play both sides of the ball for the entire game a chance to get an occasional break. It also allows the younger JV players to play JV games and not have to rush up and play varsity before they’re ready, Thorngren said
So how are things working out for the new-look Pirates on the field?
Lost Rivers is 4-0 and ranked No. 3 in the 1A Division I state media poll. Tonight the Pirates will get their biggest test of the season when state No. 1 Oakley comes to Arco.
“These kids are a team,” Drussel said. “That’s tough when you put two schools together, but it hasn’t fazed the kids … they have one common goal.”