Texico seniors John Nate Williams (left) and Johnny Rivera have been key contributors to the Wolverines’ 9-0 season, even though both are playing football for the first time since junior high. Photo by Eric Kluth
By Dave Wagner
TEXICO — Texico seniors Johnny Rivera and John Nate Williams have been on the sidelines since junior high wondering what it would be like to play for a team contending for Class 1A football glory.
With a little nudging, they’ve found out this season what they were missing.
Neither had participated in the sport since eighth grade, but they’ve helped the top-ranked Wolverines post a 9-0 record heading into Saturday’s 2 p.m. quarterfinal playoff game at home against Springer.
“They’ve been great,” said Wolverines coach Mike Prokop, whose team has reached the state finals each of the last two seasons only to lose to Fort Sumner. “They’ve done everything we’ve asked them to do.
“To these kids’ credit, they wanted to (play). That’s what we’ve tried to establish with our kids, that a lot of it is desire.”
The 6-foot, 195-pound Williams has created sort of a bookend situation at defensive end with senior Joe Zaikowski — Williams has six quarterback sacks, second on the team to Zaikowski’s 10.
“I regret not playing the last three years,” Williams said. “I should’ve played. I wanted to play last year, but I don’t know if I was lazy or what.
“All my friends were playing, and they were real successful. I wanted to be a part of that.”
He decided to give it a shot after talking with Prokop.
“He asked me if I wanted to come out, and said they needed all the help they could get,” Williams said. “I told him that it sounded like fun.”
It’s been loads of fun for the Wolverines, who are averaging more than 40 points a game and last Friday against Jal gave up just their second touchdown of the season in a 43-7 romp.
Rivera, who has started at wide receiver and cornerback, contributed a fumble return for a touchdown and a pass interception to the defensive effort against the Panthers.
He simply ripped the ball away from a Jal receiver in the third quarter and took it back 63 yards for a score.
In a similar situation in the opener at Bovina, the 5-5, 165-pounder returned a fumble about 50 yards before admittedly running out of gas and getting caught from behind at the Mustangs’ 20.
“I thought was going to be deja vu again,” said Rivera, who has also returned 10 punts for 152 yards this season.
Prokop and assistant John Irwin encouraged him to try out.
“They challenged me,” Rivera said. “They said, ‘If you want to be part of something good, you should come out.’ Since I play basketball I was always afraid I might break my leg or something.
“I felt their standards were way up there, and mine were lower. I felt I’ve had to step it up every game because it’s been a whole new learning process for me.”
Both players conceded they had some catching up to do with the system.
“It’s been a total change for me (from junior high football), physically and mentally,” Rivera said. “I think after two-a-days I began to get comfortable with my role on this team.”
By the end of preseason, they felt more a part of things.
“It was tough,” Williams said. “All the guys around you know what to do, and you try to learn it for the first time. You feel kind of stupid, but he (Prokop) makes it pretty easy.”
Williams has seen time as the second tight end in two-tight-end sets on offense, but recently began working at tackle after senior Toby Thornton injured an ACL in practice last week. It’s possible Williams could start there this week.
“Football isn’t for everybody, but neither is basketball or other sports,” Prokop said. “We try to get kids to do everything, because it’s going to make everything better. And when you have that, you’re more likely to find a diamond in the rough.”