NOVATO, Calif. (Debora Villalon/KTVU) - What a difference a week makes.
Monday afternoon, exactly one week after being threatened with elimination, Novato High School's varsity football practice attracted 25 players.
With enough athletes to field a team, the program will survive.
"Seems like we have a lot of excited kids, but I think they realize we have a lot of work ahead of us," new head coach Kevin Keenan told KTVU.
Keenan replaced the former coach who quit, throwing the team's future into turmoil.
Within days of the resignation, Novato High administrators flip-flopped on whether the team would go forward or be dissolved. Finally, they set a deadline of Aug 7 to achieve a sufficient roster.
"Sometimes you have to set a goal," vice-principal Greg Fister told KTVU, "and our goal was 20 to 25 juniors and seniors, and our parent community came through."
In particular, a handful of football moms put up a fight.
"We were not going to let them pull the plug," declared Renee Portillo, whose son Ethan is on the team.
"They're all here, they're working hard, they're happy, excited, and this is a huge hurdle to clear," added Jody
Kuehn, mom to another player, Parker.
The women spread the word and rallied opposition when the abrupt decision was made to dissolve the team.
They distributed "Save Novato Football" tee-shirts and say they'll keep those shirts handy, because they're not sure they trust the process or administrators intentions.
At a football planning meeting last week, no one was allowed to speak.
"This is a meeting with the players and the parents and the coaches, so really, why can't we talk?" posed Kuehn.
Chimed in Portillo, "This turn-around is happening today because of parents and kids, not because of the administration. We're still feeling a lack of support."
Among those watching the practice, NUSD trustee Gregory Mack.
"In the end they have a team, that's the most important thing, and administrators were acting on what information they had at the time," insisted Mack.
He has been a coach and athletic administrator, and believes football is the ultimate team sport, building character.
But Mack notes youth football is suffering an overall downturn as parents worry about concussion and long term effects of head injury.
"I would say it's the NFL. Watch an NFL game," he exclaimed. "If you're a mom and your kid wants to play football, you want them playing that way? The NFL glorifies a lot of things that shouldn't be glorified."
On the field, the boys are aware they have some catching up to do.
"A lot of us don't even know the plays," said one.
"Compared to other teams, they have like 50 people," complained another.
But at least now they can concentrate on the game.
"It's not stressful anymore," player Parker Kuehn told KTVU. "We can finally go and play and not have to worry if we're not going to have numbers or have a team. So that feels really good."
And no matter their win-loss record, their new coach promises to make it a good year.
"We're going to really try to rebuild a program from the ground up," enthused Keenan, " and give these guys a chance to leave their mark as the team that almost wasn't, but now we're here to rebuild a positive culture."