ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — There’s more parity among the teams from the north and south this year
And so it begins.
In a few hours, the 2012 high school football season will begin locally as footballs get airborne at Wilson Stadium and Milne Stadium.
If you’ve been with us the past 24 days, we’ve given you an awful lot to digest, and we hope you enjoyed our presentations.
The best part of the preseason is the day it ends. That would be today.
The focus now is on actual football. Cleveland (5A), Aztec (4A), Lovington (3A), Santa Rosa (2A), Mesilla Valley (1A), Gateway Christian (8-man) and Lake Arthur (6-man) are defending state championships this year.
Who will be left standing on Saturday, Dec. 8, in 5A? (My 5A prediction can be found at the bottom.)
The sense that I’ve gotten during the summer is that we don’t have a super-team out there in 5A. Cleveland, in the weeks and months leading up to the 2011 season, was very clearly the team everyone anointed as the favorite, and with good reason.
Las Cruces is the closest approximation to that in 2012.
Rio Rancho, La Cueva and Eldorado appear (to me) to be the metro’s best; the Rams are, for the first time since the school opened, perhaps the most compelling story we have this season in the metro area.
It would be hard for me to put too fine a point on this – getting to the semifinals last year was an enormous step forward for Rio Rancho, which has perennially been one of the most underachieving programs in New Mexico.
The Rams could argue – maybe even reasonably – that they were the second-best team in 5A at the end of last season, given how much they pushed Cleveland, both in the regular season and again in the playoffs.
We will know about Rio Rancho’s legitimacy in the first four weeks, especially after back-to back home games against Goddard and Las Cruces. The latter is a potential No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup.
How improved will La Cueva be under second-year coach Ed Lucero? Can Manzano continue this stretch of outstanding football under its first-year coach, Chad Adcox?
And who else might step forward?
Sandia? Valley? West Mesa? Highland?
I think many, including me, can’t wait to see how far Valley has come since a tough 2011 season. That predominantly sophomore group is a year older and wiser, but have they matured enough to challenge Highland and West Mesa in District 5-5A? Yes, I believe they have.
What about Cibola and Volcano Vista? You’ve got to feel the pain of these two. Right now, the Cougars and Hawks seem unlikely, or incapable, of challenging Cleveland or Rio Rancho in District 1-5A. The Rams and Storm have so many built-in advantages over the two APS programs, it’s hardly a fair fight.
Some of the area’s smaller programs have designs on making 2012 memorable. Hope Christian was a state semifinalist in 3A last year, and this is still such a young program. Albuquerque Academy is always a threat.
St. Pius’ district (5-4A) is down to it, Moriarty and Del Norte. It’ll take only two wins – maybe only one, if there is a three-way tie – to claim that league.
There are story strands from outside the metro area to track, as well.
Two of last year’s 4A state semifinalists, Aztec and Valencia, have new coaches. Clovis coach Eric Roanhaus will break Jim Bradley’s career wins record Friday night against dreadful Capital. (This is one of the great mismatches of the year.) Naturally, there will be eyes on Las Cruces as the northern schools size them up to see which of the two, Las Cruces or Mayfield, will emerge as the top playoff threat. It would seem to be the Bulldawgs, but history has shown us never to make that determination too early.
We’ve spent the past 3 1/2 weeks breaking it down. The teams, the new coaches, the top players, plus a few other goodies. If you missed any part of our coverage since Aug. 6, you can visit our website – ABQjournal.com/sports. There is a specific high school sports link, and it’s got scores of archived stories on prep football, in addition to stories on other high school sports.
Four different metro-area schools reached the 5A final in the past four Decembers: Cleveland last year, Manzano in 2010, La Cueva in 2009 and Eldorado in 2008.
I had Cleveland over Las Cruces last year; it was Mayfield that eventually lost to the Storm.
My natural inclination is to include one team from the north and one from the south as I try to find a pair of 2012 finalists. But that’s boring and so very cliché. It is more than fair to say that Albuquerque/Rio Rancho has closed the gap considerably on the traditional southern establishment (Cruces, Clovis, Mayfield and now Carlsbad) in recent years. The proof is in the results, both in the regular season and the playoffs.
And of course, those four out-of-towners are all viable candidates to play for a blue trophy Dec. 8.
But, I’m feeling rambunctious. Feisty. Defiant, even. I’m sure if he could, the legendary Jim Bradley, the longtime Roswell and Mayfield coach who is recovering from a stroke – we all wish him the best, and he’s a man I admire greatly – would take me to the verbal woodshed for what I’m about to say. Or for being a journalist. Or for being so ignorant in general.
I’ve always enjoyed a good berating from coach Bradley. But I’m Italian. My skin is plenty thick.
Try this one on.
Rio Rancho over La Cueva.
— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal