Cats ready for break

Clovis senior Brandon Cook makes a catch over junior teammate Keaton Howell Friday during practice at the high school. (CNJ staff photo: Eric Kluth)

By Rick White: CNJ managing editor

The afternoon practice had all the crispness of wilted lettuce.

After six days of two-a-day practices under the strength-sapping eastern New Mexico sun, the Clovis players and even the coaching staff were worn out.

“Everybody is stiff, tired and worn out,” senior quarterback and free safety Devin Sweet said Saturday in a nearly empty Wildcats locker room. “The first couple of days everybody was pretty excited. But now everybody is tired and needs a break.”

The Wildcats will practice once a day this week in preparation for Friday’s scrimmage against Las Cruces High in Roswell.

Clovis assistant coach Darren Kelley said two-a-days are a necessary evil.

“The biggest thing we accomplished was finding out who can play in some places,” he said. “We’re going to have some young guys step up (on the offensive line) and we have a long ways to go in our kicking game.”

Shoring up a secondary that returns two starters is also a concern, he said.

Kicking the habit
After being spoiled by the likes of place kickers Jason Seefeld and Travis Reid and punters Mario Caswell and John Props in recent years, the kicking spots are wide open.

Senior soccer player Kiko Valez is a possibility at place kicker while it’s anybody’s guess right now at punter.

“We’ve been pretty lucky lately because we’ve had some pretty good kickers,” said Kelley, who coaches special teams.

Bigger and better
Senior Chris Finch is fully recovered from a knee injury and has been a force at defensive end.

Not only has Finch grown an inch to 6-foot-5 and bulked up to 250 pounds, he’s more focused than last year, coaches said.

“Chris worked hard to get back on the field,” Kelley said. “The only thing holding him back now is learning how to go hard on every play.”

Finch, who missed the last half of the season as a junior, said he wasn’t sure how his knee would feel until the first day of practice with pads.

“I’ve been hitting people from the first day of practice,” said Finch, who could also double at tight end, especially early in the season until the Wildcats develop some depth. “The biggest thing is keeping focused.”

Finch started at tight end last year.

Double duty
An all-state strong safety as a junior, Sweet will play both ways in 2005.

The 6-4, 205-pound senior takes over for Props, a two-year starter at quarterback. On defense, he’s been shifted to free safety.

“We wanted to get him out of the traffic a little bit,” Kelley said. “He’s still going to be able to make plays. He’s the kind of player that can eliminate the middle of the field (on defense) because he’s such a hard hitter.”

Sweet said staying focused will be the biggest challenge.

“I’ll have to concentrate on offense,” he said. “I have to get us lined up correctly and read the coverages.”

He said one good thing about playing both ways is if he throws a bad pass he can take out his frustration by hitting somebody.

Devin Hanson
(5-11, 183) has returned after taking his junior year off. Hanson, who started at running back as a sophomore, said he missed his playing with friends. “I’ve played with them every since I was little.” Hanson is being tried at cornerback and strong safety. … Junior wide receiver Rishard Matthews (6-0, 182) continues to amaze teammates and coaches with his hands and his moves. “He’s the real deal,” Kelley said. “When he drops a pass everybody is shocked. We’re going to find ways to get the ball in his hands and that’s just going to open up things for Brian (Mead) and Tanner (Fickling)”. … Mead (5-8, 168, Jr.) and Fickling (5-9, 174, Sr.) will try to fill the hole left by Phillip Williams, who rushed for more than 1,900 yards as a senior last. “Those are some pretty big shoes to fill,” Fickling said. … The Wildcats have seven players on their roster listed as 6-2 or taller, led by 6-6 junior defensive end Luke Masters.