If the Los Lunas High School football team is going to have a successful season, it is going to come as a result of commitment and dedication — the foundation head coach Avilio Chavez established when he took over the program four years ago.
“If there’s a strength to this team, I think it’s the dedication these kids have shown over the past few years,” Chavez said. “These kids have dedicated themselves to developing strength and speed, which are the two ingredients we’ve been trying to develop since we got here. And they’ve done everything we’ve asked them to, to improve in those areas.”
As a result, Chavez said, the Tigers are a stronger and faster team than last year’s 4-6 squad and probably more mature and experienced.
The coach pointed out there have been five or six sophomores at starting spots each of the last two years. This year, he expects all starting spots to be filled by juniors and seniors.
The team will be led by tailback Johnny Sanchez, a junior, who was on his way to a 1,000-yard season last year before injury sidelined him for all but a few plays in the last three games.
At 5-feet-6-inches and 185 pounds, Sanchez is one of the strongest and fastest players on the team. “His work ethic is second to none,” the coach said. “That’s important because, a lot of time s, he sets the tone for us.”
Chavez said Sanchez should be one of the state’s premier running backs this season. “We expect some good things from Johnny, but he’s going to have some people around him who will help him do some good things,” he said.
Sharing time in the backfield at fullback will be senior Damon Williams and junior Matt Walker.
Mark Delgado brings experience at quarterback. Though a backup the last two years, Delgado has about a full season of experience as a starter, due to injuries suffered by the No. 1 QB.
“I’m real proud of Mark and the way he’s handled his backup position as a sophomore and junior,” Chavez said. “He handled it real well, and, this year, we think he’s ready to take a leadership role as starting quarterback.”
Though Delgado’s the starter, Chavez added he wouldn’t hesitate to call on either senior Gabe Apodaca or junior Antony Arana to step in at quarterback if needed. “They’ve both been playing really well.”
Delgado threw two touchdown passes during last Saturday’s scrimmages against Ruidoso and Roswell Goddard in Ruidoso. Chavez described one as a beautifully thrown 35-yard reception to senior Alex Sanchez. Delgado also connected with junior Jason Gallegos for a score during the scrimmage.
“We’re expecting some really good things from those two receivers,” Chavez said of Sanchez and Gallegos. “We have three guys that we feel can catch the ball with (tight end) Andrew Lente.”
The offensive line is anchored by Dominic Garley at center, a 290-pounder who squatted 500 pounds in the weight room. His brother, Derrick, will play right tackle alongside guard Nathan Tuhl. Slated to start on the left side are seniors Garret Sego at guard and Nick Moya at tackle.
Several players will also play on defense, including Johnny Sanchez, Williams and Lente at linebacker. Senior Billy Chavez, the coach’s son, will start at strong-side linebacker.
Several starting spots are still up for grabs on the defensive line. Among those vying for playing time are Sego, Moya, Zef Banda, Steven Rael, Sean Kesani, the Garley brothers, Tuhl, Michael Ortega and Jamie Eastman, a 6-foot-3-inch, 263-pound junior who Chavez singled out as having had an impressive scrimmage on Saturday.
In the defensive backfield, the Tigers have good speed with Walker at free safety and Apodaca and senior Robert Hedrick at the corners. “They’re all pretty quick guys, and we think that they will come up and make some hits also,” the coach said.
Chavez said the play of the defense was the highlight of the scrimmages. The Tiger defense generated five turnovers on the day.
“I was especially pleased with the defense,” Chavez said. “That’s one of the areas where we thought we needed to see improvement. And we’re right where we’re supposed to be.”
The Tigers are a more mature, more experienced, stronger and faster team this year. In District 3-5A with state powers Las Cruces High and Mayfield, that won’t necessarily translate to more wins.
But this year’s team is dedicated, committed and maintains a good attitude, Chavez said. “If we stay healthy, we’re going to play with some people this year.” he said.
The Tigers open the season on Friday, Sept. 6, with a road game against Del Norte. They play their home opener against Belen on Friday, Sept. 13. “The Valencia Bowl” will be the 50th consecutive year the county’s high school football teams have met on the grid iron.