By Kevin Wilson
Saturday afternoon saw Austin Pullen and Tyler Johnson on the football field, battling Clovis and Bovina, Texas, in 7-on-7 action.
Sunday evening saw the pair on the basketball court, battling teams from across New Mexico and Texas in 5-on-5 action.
A few months from now, they’ll be doing the same thing, except with state championships on the line. For some, summer means a break from school and all of its activities. For Portales High athletes, summer means training camps and informal leagues.
“In just doing this all of the time,” said Pullen, “it shows what you’re made of. When you go out and play as hard as you can — or not as hard as you can — it shows what you’re made of.”
Pullen, 6-foot and 150 pounds, will likely play wide receiver and free safety in his senior year for Ram football. When basketball season rolls around, he’ll play post for a Ram basketball team that hopes to make up in athleticism what it lacks in varsity experience.
“He’s improved, just for the fact that he’s playing the game,” Portales coach Mark Gallegos said of Pullen before asserting the same for Johnson.
As of this morning, the Ram basketball squad will have played eight games at the Eastern New Mexico University team camps since Sunday.
It’s even more strenuous for Johnson, who also played on Portales’ junior varsity team in an earlier ENMU camp session. All told, Johnson will have played nearly 35 games of some sort from the start of last week to the end of this week.
“I don’t think I can describe it in words,” Johnson said of the grind, which has contributed to a pair of foot blisters and what he calls, “the weakest ankles.”
Still, there’s no complaining for the 5-foot-9, 198-pound junior-to-be. Moreover, he said he had to convince Gallegos to let him play in both camps.
“I was looking forward to it,” said Johnson, son of Portales football coach Glen Johnson. “The camps are fun. It’s been fun since I was coming out of eighth grade.”
While some of the camps and summer leagues that Portales participates in are in their infancy, Gallegos said the concept is nothing new.
“They can handle it physically,” Gallegos said. “When I was a kid (in Santa Rosa), we had to play three sports. The gym was open and you played, and you lifted and you ran patterns.
“Portales isn’t big enough where kids can specialize.”
Neither Gallegos nor Glen Johnson thinks that pulling athletes in different directions hurts them. They contend that it actually makes the athletes better in the long run.
“It complements one another when they’re getting those positives from Gallegos that I’ll possibly miss out on and vice versa,” Coach Johnson said. “It’s very positive for the kids.”
The results have shown on the field. The Ram basketball team has played in three of the last four District 4-3A championships and the Ram football team has three straight playoff appearances, including 2002’s Class 3A runnerup finish.
The success of the football program has meant that the basketball team is often starting seasons with little practice — a big reason that Gallegos stresses the importance of camps like these.
“If we don’t do this in the summer,” Gallegos said, “we’re not going to beat anyone on two days of practice.”
With all the work that the athletes do in the summer, it’s easy to think that school may be somewhat of a break. With about half of the summer camp left and a football tournament in Las Cruces this weekend, Pullen couldn’t argue with that perspective.
“Sometimes you can think that way,” Pullen said, “but it gives you something to do.”