The Clovis defense gangs up to La Cueva’s Richard Bohlken (28) in the Wildcats’ 31-13 win on Sept. 8 at Leon Williams Stadium. (CNJ staff photo: Andy DeLisle)
By Greg Price: CNJ sports writer
Senior Cobey Isbell said he’s just trying to fit in.
Expected to contribute for the Clovis Wildcats mostly on special teams, Isbell was thrust into the starting lineup at strong safety when projected starter Diondre Hunter blew his knee out a week before the season opener.
Hunter was the only returning starter from the Cats’ 2005 defense.
Isbell said the whole team felt the loss.
“I knew the coverages and I knew where to go,” said the 5-foot-10, 175-pound Isbell, who has six solo tackles and seven assists on the season. “I had to make (the team) feel like (Hunter) wasn’t lost.”
Playing predominantly rush-oriented teams in their first three games, the Wildcats (2-1) have allowed 137 yards passing this season.
Clovis’ rebuilt secondary will face its first true test today when it squares off against Amarillo Palo Duro (0-2).
“They spread the ball all over the field,” CHS assistant coach Darren Kelley said. “They’re the kind of team that can take you from sideline to sideline.”
Palo Duro, which has reached the Class 4A state playoffs five straight years, is led by senior quarterback Skye Gonzales, who possesses a quick delivery and when he has his timing down can be dangerous in the pocket, Kelley said.
Facing a pass-first offense, Clovis senior linebacker Cade Wheeler said it is up to him and junior linebacker Taylor Muse to stop a run play if it develops, and to drop back when the Dons take to the air to aid the rest of the secondary.
Palo Duro throws on 80 to 85 percent of its plays, Wheeler said.
In their first two games of the season, the Dons have passed for 430 yards in losses to Tascosa (31-27) and Amarillo High (41-7).
“We’ve been playing some very tough teams,” veteran Palo Duro coach Steve Parr said. “We’re a very young team, and for some of these kids it’s the first time they’ve stepped on a varsity field.”
Parr knows the Clovis system well from his days at Plainview.
He acknowledged Clovis’ one-two running back combination of senior Brian Mead and junior Manuel Robles, who have combined for 801 rushing yards this season and accounted for nearly 83 percent of the Wildcats’ total yardage.
Even if the Dons manage to contain the run, Parr said the Wildcats are a terrific all-around team and are capable of going to the air.
“We’ve worked hard in practice all week,” said Clovis junior quarterback Jordan Mendoza, who has completed 13-of-25 for 137 yards and one touchdown. “I’m confident enough that if we need to, we can pass.”
As the offense has already proven itself dangerous, Isbell feels the Cats’ defense is ready to prove itself.
“We’ve been waiting for a time like this,” Isbell said. “It’s a secondary’s dream.”