Three of the most prominent members of the St. Paul Harding/Humboldt co-operative football program look forward to playing less this season.

That's because growing numbers in the Knighthawks' second season should make playing both ways a luxury rather than a necessity. As first-year head coach Andre Creighton told players before taking the field for Monday afternoon practice at Harding High School, playing starters both ways all game often results in .500 football.

Or less. Before combining as a program and finishing 4-5 last season, neither St. Paul public school had sniffed .500 in forever. Harding's last winning season came in 2012. Humboldt owned the conference's longest losing streak at 31 games. Last season's improvement helped bring more than 60 players out for Monday's season-opening practice, an increase of about a dozen from last year.

"Seeing all these guys really puts a smile on your face," said senior quarterback Jorge Irizarry. "This really looks like a football team, a brotherhood. You love to see it."

Irizarry endured Humboldt's final season in 2020, when the program had only 20 players to start before ending the season with 12.

"It was bad," said Irizarry, who played every snap as a defensive back in addition to taking all the snaps at quarterback.

Edgar Zapata-Wirtz can relate. The Knighthawks linebacker prides himself in playing with immense heart. This season, his efforts shouldn't be needed at wide receiver too often.

"Finally," Zapata-Wirtz said with a smile. "Because my whole high school career I've had to play kickoff, kick return, defense and offense — never getting a break."

With greater numbers comes higher expectations. Running back Robert Htoo said the season ahead will be successful so long as players from different schools come together.

"Unified," Htoo said. "That's the word. We have to be able to play well with each other."