It was 2010, and Dusty Giles was in a familiar place and a familiar home — the office of Artesia head football coach Cooper Henderson.
They chatted a week after the Bulldogs won their 27th state title, and Giles, then the head coach at Estancia and a former player and assistant to Henderson at Artesia, had an epiphany he relayed to Henderson.
“I told him, ‘All the time I was here, I thought these things grew on trees, but they don’t,’ ” Giles said.
This was from an Artesia alum who played on a state championship team and was a part of three coaching staffs that padded the blue trophy stash of the state’s most decorated football program. But when he left the team in 2005 to spread his coaching wings as the head coach at Escalante and Estancia, Giles learned the hard truth about championships.
They don’t come easily. Not that they are at Artesia, but tradition often begets tradition and the lessons from those experiences are handed down almost as soon as the next batch of future Bulldogs are laid in their cribs.
At Escalante, where Giles is in the second year of his second tour guiding the program, tradition has a different meaning.
The program has been consistently one of the better ones in the North, but its championship lineage never advanced beyond the district scene.
On Saturday, the Lobos embark on new territory — their first state championship game. They will travel to Ruidoso on Friday and then to Capitan on Saturday to decide the Class A champion for 2012. Giles has four championship games under his belt, but he doesn’t hesitate to rank this one compared to the rest.
“This is the biggest one, without a doubt,” Giles said. “If we win this out, it will be my fifth state championship, but it will be the greatest win in my book.”
The biggest because it’s the first one that came from his vision. But the one thing he can take away from his previous experiences is the joy that comes from it.
From the Thanksgiving Day practice the Lobos held.
To the bus ride to Ruidoso.
To the ride to Capitan.
To the walk to the locker room.
To the electric atmosphere that will envelop the town, the players from both teams and the fans.
To the biggest game of their lives.
These are moments that, while fleeting, will remain in their consciousness forever.
“Just soak it all in, every minute,” Giles said. “One of these days will be gone, and the next year comes and we move on. Just enjoy the time you have right now.”
Giles learned through seven years as a head coach how fleeting this moment is. When you come from a town like Artesia, your perception of the football universe can be skewed. Take Thanksgiving practice, the first he had since those days in the Bulldog Bowl.
“You almost take it for granted that you are going to have this kind of practice,” Giles said. “It’s a real special practice because it’s not the norm.”
Then again, nothing is the norm when you’re from Artesia. But it prepares you for moments like this.