Texico running back Johnny Serrano rushed for more than 1,800 yards last year. (CNJ file photo)
By Dave Wagner
Dexter McDaniel has moved over one spot on the Fort Sumner sidelines this season, and he knows he has some big shoes to fill.
Still, the longtime Foxes assistant said things have gone reasonably well as he tries to replace longtime coach Mario Martinez, who took a job during the summer with the New Mexico Activities Association.
The Foxes captured five state titles in Martinez’ 12 years at the school, including back-to-back titles in 2001-02.
“The transition hasn’t been that hard,” said McDaniel, the defensive coordinator during the Martinez tenure. “Every year it’s a struggle to get numbers, but this year we’ve got a decent turnout and a good senior group.
“I’m looking forward to the season.”
Fort Sumner saw its run of 10 consecutive trips to the Class 1A semifinals, including nine championship game berths, come to an end last year with a first-round loss at home to Loving.
But the Foxes are expecting to make another playoff run with a larger-than-usual number of upperclassmen.
“We’ve got a good crop of leaders,” said McDaniel, whose squad opens tonight at Hagerman. “It’s been enjoyable coaching this group.”
Two area teams were slated to begin their seasons on Thursday at home — defending 1A champion Texico, against the Hobbs junior varsity, and Clovis Christian, against New Mexico School for the Deaf.
A third consecutive trip to the 1A championship game last season was a charm for Texico, which beat Loving 21-6 ion the title game. Texico lost to Fort Sumner in the previous two title matchups.
The Wolverines return five starters on offense and five on defense, led by fourth-year starter Braden Vaughan at quarterback. Also back is senior split end-defensive back Tony Clements, who missed the 2003-04 sports year with a knee injury.
With some newcomers in the lineup, fifth-year coach Mike Prokop said the Wolverines will have a much tougher time than they did last season, when they ran roughshod over opponents by a combined scored of 507-19.
“They’re awful young and untested,” Prokop said. “We’re going to have to get better every week, but I was real pleased with the way they performed at Dexter (last week in a scrimmage).”
Melrose also has title aspirations in six-man after going 9-3 last year with all three losses to state champion Tatum. It was the third state runnerup finish in coach Dickie Roybal’s eight seasons at Melrose, which did win a six-man title in 1999.
The Buffaloes were hurt last week, though, when junior quarterback-linebacker Brock Graham was lost for 6-8 weeks with a broken leg in a scrimmage at Floyd.
“With his experience, it was like having a coach on the field,” Roybal said. “But I think we’ll be OK if we don’t lose anybody else.”
Still, he added that “we do have one of the better teams we’ve had since I’ve been here” led by junior running back Carlos Ruiz, who piled up 2,100 rushing yards and 42 touchdowns in just 10 games last season.
Carlos Velasquez takes over the Clovis Christian program after two seasons as Greg Darden’s assistant. The Eagles gained their accreditation last year and will be eligible for the NMAA playoffs for the first time.
“We’re excited about that,” Velasquez said. “We’re hoping to have a real good year.”
On the Texas side, Farwell earned its first playoff berth and winning record since 1999, going 9-2 and reaching the second round of the Class 1A playoffs.
While the Steers return most of their starters, coach Jacob Thompson said the schedule — which includes three new pre-district opponents — should be challenging.
Senior Robbie Tabb moves from a wide receiver position to take over at quarterback.
“A lot of what we’re doing this year we’ve tried to build around him,” Thompson said. “Last year we felt like he could help us more at wide receiver. He’s really a fine student, and pretty athletically gifted.”
Bovina was eliminated from postseason contention with a loss to Farwell in the regular-season finale, finishing 6-4.
The Mustangs were hurt by graduation and have only four seniors this year, but second-year coach Kent Torbert is optimistic behind senior Jeff Casas, a third-year starter at quarterback, and 6-3, 250-pound senior center-defensive tackle Roger Martinez.
Muleshoe missed the playoffs last season for the first time since 1996, going 4-6. The Mules are determined to get back in the hunt, but the caliber of their district schedule improved when Levelland dropped down from Class 4A.
“I just think our kids are hungry for it,” coach David Wood said. “A key this year is making sure we stay healthy.”
Clovis Christian Eagles
District: Six-man 3, with Floyd, Logan, Melrose and San Jon
Coach: Carlos Velasquez (1st year)
2003 record/postseason: 2-4, the Eagles were not certified for NMAA playoff competition until after the season.
Players to watch: Ryan Boatman, So., QB; Cory Hastings, Sr., LB/OL; Robert Montanez, Sr., RB/DB; Ryan Schaap, So., C/DE.
Coach Velasquez says: “I think we’re going to have a good senior corps that will help us out. It’s going to be quite a district. It’ll be a real battle.”
Fort Sumner Foxes
District: 2-1A, with Mora, Questa and Springer
Coach: Dexter McDaniel (1st year)
2003 record/postseason: 8-3, lost in first round of 1A playoffs 7-0 to eventual runnerup Loving.
Players to watch: Derek Dimitroff, Jr., RB/DB; Ryan Fikany, Jr., RB/DB; Adrian Collaso, Sr., OT/DT; Ross Cortese, Sr., G/LB; Tim Segura, Sr., OT/DE; Lance Wood, Sr., C/DT; Jesse Cortese, Sr., E/DE.
Coach McDaniel says: “(Springer has been) tough, but I think they’ll be down a little this year. Mora is the team that could be surprising.”
District: Six-man 3, with Clovis Christian, Floyd, Logan and San Jon
Coach: Dickie Roybal (8th year)
2003 record/postseason: 9-3, lost in the six-man championship game at Tatum 57-40.
Players to watch: Carlos Ruiz, Jr., RB/DE; Caleb Dodd, Sr., C/LB; Koy Speer, Sr., FB/DE; James Walker, Sr., QB/DB.
Coach Roybal says: “We’ve finally got a group with experience. This is probably the best speed we’ve ever had.”
District: 3-1A, with Hagerman, Jal and Loving
Coach: Mike Prokop (5th year)
2003 record/postseason: 12-0, beat Loving 21-6 for 1A championship
Players to watch: Johnny Serrano, Sr., RB/LB; Braden Vaughan, Sr., QB/DB; Tony Clements, Sr., SE/DB; Logan Brown, Sr., G/LB; Bryan Vanatta, Sr., C; Garett Mayfield, Sr., SE/DB.
Coach Prokop says: “Our expectations are still pretty high. If everything falls into place, we should be able to make it to the playoffs.”
District: 4-1A, with Farwell, Hart, Nazareth, Sudan and Springlake-Earth
Coach: Kent Torbert (2nd year)
2003 record/postseason: 6-4, no playoffs
Players to watch: Jeff Casas, Sr., QB/SS; Eddie Segovia, Jr., RB/DE; Roger Martinez, Sr., C/DT; Josh Shelby, Sr., RB/LB; Michael Ortiz, Jr., WR/CB.
Coach Torbert says: “I think we may be a more disciplined and a closer-knit group (than last year). The guys seem to enjoy each other and enjoy playing the game.”
District: 4-1A, with Bovina, Hart, Nazareth, Sudan and Springlake-Earth
Coach: Jacob Thompson (4th year)
2003 record/postseason: 9-2, lost to Sunray 21-0 in the second round of the playoffs
Players to watch:Robbie Tabb, Sr., QB/CB; Rowdy Mitchell, Sr., FB/LB; Joel Chavez, Sr., OT/DT; Matthew Edwards, Jr., RB/CB; Hugo Vazquez, Sr., RB/DE.
Coach Thompson says: “Our key is to stay healthy. We’ve loaded up our (pre-district) schedule, so I don’t know if we’ll be able to stay healthy.”
District: 2-3A, with Brownfield, Levelland, Littlefield and Lubbock Cooper
Coach: David Wood (9th year)
2003 record/postseason: 4-6, no playoffs
yers to watch: Juan Nunez, Sr., G/LB; Brady Black, Jr., RB/DB; Joel Salcido, Sr., TE/DE; Juan Reyes, Jr., RB/DB; Kory Atwood, Sr., C/DE.
Coach Wood says: “It’s no doubt going to be a tougher road this year (in the district, with Levelland moving down from Class 4A). We’re going to have to be ready to play every night.”