CNJ staff photo: Rick White Senior running back Manuel Robles, left, and senior quarterback Jordan Mendoza are key returning players on offense as the Clovis High Wildcats prepare to open the 2007 season next week.
By Rick White: CNJ managing editor
Manuel Robles smiles. He swears he’s going to adapt his sledgehammer running style and avoid tacklers once in a while.
“I’ve got some moves,” Robles said.
The Clovis High senior is already adept at dodging questions about following in the footsteps of a long line of star running backs.
“I really don’t like to talk about that,” said Robles, a three-time state triple jump champion who rushed for 1,100 yards last year while playing in the shadows of Brian Mead, the school’s all-time leading rusher.
The 5-foot-10, 183-pound Robles said he learned the “hard way” last year he can’t run over every tackler he meets if he’s going to stay healthy.
Clovis assistant coach Darren Kelley said the coaching staff will have to be cautious how they use Robles because of his contact-inducing running style.
“He runs so hard,” Kelley said. “He’s definitely not afraid of contact.”
Robles’ five touchdowns last season included a 78-yard run and a 90-yard kickoff return.
The Wildcats, who averaged 27.5 points a game during a 7-4 season that included their sixth straight playoff appearance and 25th in 29 years under head coach Eric Roanhaus, have other weapons in senior quarterback Jordan Mendoza, senior wide receiver Bryce Hill and several running backs to complement Robles.
Mendoza (6-1, 180) passed for 518 yards and four TDs last year while completing nearly 55 percent of his throws. Hill (6-0, 182) was his favorite target with 10 catches for 193 yards and a score.
Mendoza said he learned from an up-and-down season (six interceptions) about the importance of mental and physical preparation, especially being able to read defenses. He is also being counted on to be a leader.
“I know we’re a running team,” Mendoza said. “I’ve got to get the trust of Coach Roanhaus if we’re going to throw the ball more.”
Robles and Mendoza will have to operate behind an offensive line that is replacing all five starters. Kelley said the line isn’t as big as in past seasons, but is more athletic.
In fact, across-the-board team speed is one of the Wildcats’ strengths this season, Kelley said, something which should help a defense that was prone to giving up big plays last season.
A weak pass rush and mental mistakes in the secondary resulted in the normally fundamentally sound Wildcats’ defense allowing 12 touchdown passes a year ago.
“Speed makes up for a lot of mistakes,” Kelley said. “You can teach a kid where to line up and how to step, but you can’t teach speed.”
Senior Dominique Chairez (5-11,198) is being switched to linebacker, where he can use the quickness that helped him earn all-district honors as a guard to run down ballcarriers. Although he hasn’t started on defense since junior high, he said the transition has been smooth.
“We’re taught to read the guards, so that makes (the transition) pretty easy,” Chairez said. “The hard part has been being more vocal because I have to get us lined up right.”
Chairez may also see time on the offense line as needed.
Senior Daniel Segovia (6-2, 275) returns to anchor the defensive line. Senior Jaden Isler is expected to do the same in the secondary, where he is being moved from free safety to cornerback.
Senior Robert North returns for his third season as the Wildcats’ punter and placekicker.