Pre-season workouts for the Belen High School football team have been fairly physical recently — physical enough that starting quarterback Joshua Pena bruised his ribs in practice last week.
Pena, who missed half of last season due to a knee surgery, insists he’ll be ready for Friday’s opener at Socorro, a team the Eagles narrowly defeated last year, 14-13.
“They’ve beaten us pretty good before,” Belen coach Kevin Benavidez said of Socorro. “They’re a good football team.”
The Eagles and Warriors kick off the season at 7 p.m. Friday at the Socorro High School football field.
Belen is coming off a 2-8 season. But Pena, a 6-foot-1-inch junior, thinks the Eagles can turn things around this year. His backup will be quarterback Jake Pargas, a sophomore, who got his chance to run practice plays last week.
“We’ve got a different attitude this year,” Pena said. “We may not have the biggest guys, but all of them work real hard.
“I waited a whole year to play,” said Pena, referring to his knee injury last season. “So, I’m pretty excited to play.
“We’ve got some good senior leadership on our team, but it’s going to take everybody to get it done,” Pena said.
Benavidez, now in his third coaching season for Belen, has yet to post a winning record, as his teams went 1-9 and 2-8 in his first two seasons. Benavidez, a former Eagle lineman who went on to play four years at New Mexico Highlands University, said Belen’s linemen might make the difference this year.
Four senior starting offensive linemen — center Anthony Baca, a 200-pounder; guard Jaron Andrew and tackles Alex Taylor and Casey Peralta, both seniors, at 240 pounds — form a strong nucleus up front. Guard Chris Villella, a junior, will handle the other position up front.
“Because we have our line from tackle to center, we’ll be better,” Taylor said. “I think it’s going to be a stronger year for us offensively.”
“We’re really together this year,” said Andrews, who will line up next to Taylor. “We’re just going to out-work guys, because we don’t have all the skill.”
Benavidez echoed the sentiments of his players when asked if the Eagles can post a better record this year. “I think our team is much more versatile, and they’ve made a commitment this year,” he said.
This will be the second season for Eagle players to get used to running a wing-T offense that features some misdirection plays. It’s not one of the easiest offenses for a high school player to learn.
“Last year was the first year we ran it, and, hopefully, we’ll run it better this year,” Benavidez said. “Everybody who’s starting now has experience at being a starter.”
The coach would not say how much the Eagles would put the ball in the air. If Pena gets the opportunity to air it out, he’ll look for wide receiver Derrick Jaramillo, a junior, or tight end James Brookins, a senior and a sizable target at 6-feet-1-inch, 190 pounds.
The Eagle ground attack figures to loom large with halfback Allen Thompson, a junior, getting his fair share of work. Thompson rushed for 400 yards last season after earning the starting spot midway through the season.
Junior John Henry Peralta will also be in the backfield along with fullbacks Steve Sisneros ( 170 pounds) and Ben Harper (190), both seniors, who will split time, according to Benavidez.
On defense, Benavidez plans on playing a four-man front but has not decided on his starting linemen or defensive backs and linebackers. Seniors Terrell Trantham and Ben Harper figure to play somewhere on the defensive line. At the linebacker and defensive back positions, senior Josh Zemke and juniors Bryan Willis, Gabe Borrego and Rick Gonzales are all being considered.
When asked if he was counting on any one player this year, Benavidez said, “I can’t say any one person. I’m just hoping.”
Hopefully, the Eagles will fly higher this year. With Class 5A schools Albuquerque High, Gallup and Sandia no longer on Belen’s schedule, the possibility for more wins increases.