The sophomore enjoys a higher standing than a freshman, not just for age-based reasons. The sophomore has, in the words of Stevie Wonder, “been through the storms, through the cold and rain.”
But just some things are still the same, as the Curry County Cats move into their second season as a semi-pro football team in the New Mexico Premier League.
“We have a few more military guys, and a few guys that have had other semipro and Division I experience,” said coach Paul Lopez, who also took over general manager duties this offseason. “After the season last year, there’s a lot of guys who want to get on board.”
Clovis Wildcats fans will recognize plenty of faces when the squad opens its three-game exhibition season at 1 p.m. on Sautrday against the Amarillo Titans. Running back Manuel Robles has put on 15-20 pounds of muscle, and a receiver corps of Moses Bibbs, Jacob Jones and Adam Garcia are more accustomed to working with John Props at quarterback.
“I don’t think we’ve skipped a beat,” Lopez said. “If anything, we’re better. Everybody’s on the same page. The camaraderie is there. You can see it. I can sit there and let them call their own plays. They’re grown men.”
Lopez is thankful that Mike Muscato, who left to focus on the Clovis Sports Association youth leagues, and Mike Thomas, who pursued other football opportunities, had the passion and desire to bring semi-pro football to the area.
But he’s also glad that the second season is in his control
“A lot of people didn’t know where to go or who to see,” Lopez said. “It’s a lot of work, a lot of pressure. If it’s going to fall down, I want it all to fall down on me. My name was on it from the get-go and I’m going to see it all the way out.”
The Cats, who finished 7-3 last year and reached the Premier division championship, will play three exhibition games before opening the regular season against the New Mexico Titans — 2 p.m. March 3 at Leon Williams Stadium.
Props comes in as the starting quarterback, as Quin Culiver moves to a defensive role, where he’ll join Josh Bryan, Aaron Alexander and Mario Caswell. But another former Clovis quarterback — 1998 CHS grad Cal Fullerton — is taking the challenge as well.
Being on the sidelines with the Cats last year, and hearing about the experience from fellow CHS coach Francis Warner, motivated him to get back into his playing shape of 6-foot-5, 215 pounds.
“They’re really intense,” Fullerton said. “Guys are ready to put on pads, ready to get after somebody besides each other. Paul’s done a pretty good job of getting guys out there who have played, and know the game.”
Fullerton isn’t sure how he’ll fit in at this point, whether he takes a lot of snaps or ends up doing playcalling — as Lopez said may happen to help free him up for other coaching duties.
The players continue to play for free and pay their own insurance, Lopez said, but he believes the team will be in better position this year to pay travel and meal expenses.
The exhibition games will be $5 per person, with military, college and high school students, and first responders given free admission. During the regular season, games will be $5 per person with children 12 and younger admitted free.
All times Mountain
4 — Amarillo Titans, 1 p.m.; 11 — West Texas Outlaws, 1 p.m.; 18 — West Texas Drillers, 7 p.m.
3 — New Mexico Titans, 2 p.m.; 10 — Las Cruces Kings, 2 p.m.; 25 — El Paso Raiders, 2 p.m.; 31 —Alamogordo Desert Dawgs, 2 p.m.
15 — El Paso Raiders, 2 p.m.; 28 — Alamogordo Desert Dawgs, 2 p.m..
Las Cruces Kings, 2 p.m.; 20 — Albuquerque Predators, 2 p.m.
First round, June 3-4; second round, June 10-11; championship, June 18-19.