ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — High school football programs, in a general sense, are operated with one voice legislating everything.
And while Ron McMath retains all the structural and philosophical control of the West Mesa Mustangs, the veteran coach decided that some flexibility and expansion might aid the cause.
“We have,” he said, “a bunch of really good kids, and they’re starting to understand what we want from them as a coaching staff.”
McMath, in his third season, thought broadening the program’s horizons might benefit everyone.
During the offseason, and with West Mesa coming off a 4-6 season, McMath and his staff changed the leadership structure, essentially dividing the team into half a dozen groups.
“We have six guys who lead those different groups,” he said. “We’re trying to give the kids more of a voice in what’s going on, so they have a little bit more reason to buy in.”
Bring this subject around to the Mustangs themselves, and you get what direction this is going.
“Discipline killed us last year,” said senior wide receiver/safety Zack Schroer. “I wouldn’t say we didn’t respect the coaches as much as we just weren’t coachable. I think the coaches knew the problem.”
With a small army of helpers, McMath hopes West Mesa will have a more disciplined, effective group. The team leaders will have a say in how players are punished.
“It was bad,” senior linebacker/running back Joseph Almendarez said. “Our seniors didn’t take leadership in the right direction. Also, not everyone was giving their best effort the whole time.”
That said, McMath could scarcely be more pleased about West Mesa’s offseason.
“I’ve had more fun coaching this summer than ever,” he said.
The Mustangs remain the third choice in District 5-6A, which lost Highland and is now just a five-team league. Atrisco Heritage and Valley will be the district favorites.
They’ve got four starters back on both sides of the ball.
How will this new approach translate on the field?
“Hopefully,” McMath said, “we get effort. We can’t compete with other teams unless we give 100 percent effort all the time.”
One of the items to watch during the weeks leading up to opening night – West Mesa is actually playing in the season’s first game, on Wednesday, Aug. 27, against Highland at Community Stadim – is the battle for quarterback.
Sophomore Domonic Fischer and junior Marcos Gonzales both have traits that McMath admires, and in fact West Mesa will likely create packages for both as they could be switching off.
Fischer is the taller, stronger thrower; Gonzales brings speed and elusiveness.
Almendarez is perhaps the best of the Mustangs’ runners, and McMath believes “blocking and running” is this offense’s strength. Three offensive line starters return, led by three-year center Jacob Smith. And West Mesa wants to run a faster-paced offense this fall.
“I think we’ll be able to throw better,” Schroer said, “and open up the run.”
West Mesa’s defense had issues with physical teams last season – like Atrisco, for example.
But that area should be improved, with Jon Martinez on the nose and two quick ends in sophomore Jacob Garduño and (especially) quick-footed junior Idan Urrutia.
The larger concern this year, McMath said, is teams that go outside on the West Mesa defense and get to the edge.
But however this season progresses, the Mustangs at least are committed to doing it the right way.
“I think we’ve changed the attitude around here,” Almendarez said. “It’s more about working hard than your ego.”
Said Schroer: “The big thing for us is, if we lose a couple of games, we can’t get down on ourselves. I think we can do better this year. I do. I think we’re capable of getting at least to .500.”
West Mesa at a glance
Coach: Ron McMath (3rd year; 7-13)
Last season: 4-6
Returning starters: 4 offense, 4 defense
Key players: Zack Schroer, sr. (5-9, 175, WR/S); Joseph Almendarez, sr. (5-8, 190, RB/LB); Jacob Smith, sr. (5-7, 195, C/LB); Dylan Martinez, sr. (5-8, 200, G/LB); Jerad Romero, sr. (5-8, 190, RB/LB); Idan Urrutia, jr. (6-1, 205, OL/DE); Marcos Gonzales, jr. (5-7, 155, CB/QB); Jon Martinez, jr. (5-9, 240, NG); Jacob Garduño, soph. (6-0, 195, OL/DL); Cole Ronnau, soph. (5-10, 175, S/RB).
Outlook: The Mustangs, as usual, will have to try to do more with less, in terms of a lineup that’s not very big. Urrutia might be this team’s best athlete; he runs a 4.6 in the 40, according to McMath, and will be problematic for every offensive line that tries to block him. West Mesa might have rotating quarterbacks, but believes it has a good stable of runners, and the Mustangs have another weapon in junior kicker Sabino Morales, one of the best in the state. The defense must improve against the run for this team to approach the .500 mark.
(x-denotes District 5-6A game)
Aug. 27, at Highland (C), 7 p.m.
Sept. 4, Valencia (C), 7 p.m.
Sept. 13, at Eldorado (W), 1 p.m.
Sept. 19, at Manzano (W), 7 p.m.
Sept. 27, Oñate (C), 1 p.m.
Oct. 3, at Volcano Vista (C), 7 p.m.
x-Oct. 9, Valley (C), 7 p.m.
x-Oct. 16, at Rio Grande (M), 7 p.m.
Oct. 24, IDLE
x-Oct. 30, at Atrisco Heritage (C), 7 p.m.
x-Nov. 7, Albuquerque High (C), 7 p.m.
(C) – Community Stadium; (W) – Wilson Stadium; (M) – Milne Stadium
Circle the date: The Mustangs were chosen by APS to be part of the 2014 New Mexico season opener. They and former district rival Highland will get the season started, and it’s a good chance for West Mesa to get an early win.