ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — For the Manzano Monarchs, it’s all about striking a balance.
During the Aaron Ocampo years at Manzano, the Monarchs were often a point-scoring machine but a defensive liability.
Since Chad Adcox became head coach, the Monarchs’ defense has become a fierce, blunt instrument. But now the offense needs tweaking.
For the first time in his three seasons, Adcox feels as though Manzano has some equality.
And the Monarchs, who were 5-5 last year but missed the playoffs, want back into the big dance. The Journal ranks them No. 8 in the preseason metro top-10.
“It was frustrating (missing the playoffs),” said senior slot receiver Charles Countee. “We watched the little show on TV, and it left a bitter taste in our mouths, but now we’re striving to be district champions and to get back to the playoffs.”
It won’t be easy.
Manzano faces a grueling district slate, and in fact Adcox – as well as some of his counterparts in District 2-6A, namely La Cueva’s Brandon Back, Eldorado’s Charlie Dotson and Sandia’s Kevin Barker – have a difficult time discerning which of them might be the preseason favorite.
It won’t be Manzano if the Monarchs cannot begin finding the end zone.
But the Monarchs believe they’ve got the weapons to erase memories of last season, when they only went over 20 points in two of their 10 games and scored just 168 points total.
“This group has been very good this offseason about being a team and embracing each other and trying to challenge each other,” said Adcox. “We took it upon ourselves to push that competition and make each other better.”
Manzano’s center/quarterback duo is one of the more unique in the state. Senior Brandon Bray is 175 pounds. His center, senior Ray White, weighs twice that. At least.
White anchors an offensive line that has more bulk than it’s had the last couple of years, and senior running back Isaiah Cordova, Adcox said, has the speed and power to take advantage. He was a slot receiver last season.
“We definitely have the potential to go far,” said junior tight end/defensive end Jonathan Potter. “If we keep doing what we can do, I’m sure we can beat any team.”
The primary issue for Manzano last season was at QB. Angel Gonzales was finding his way but injured his collarbone during a Week 3 game against Clovis.
Bray became the starter with Manzano at 3-0. But he was thrown in against some New Mexico heavyweights – teams like Mayfield, Valley and Cibola – before Gonzales returned for district play. But as Countee said, “He wasn’t Angel anymore.”
Manzano lost four of its last five and was outside the playoff bubble.
However, things are much brighter all these months later, starting with a more experienced and poised Bray.
“He really has blossomed as a quarterback and as a leader,” Adcox said. “That (when he subbed for Gonzales) was the beginning of that transformation for him.”
Technically, Bray has shored up his footwork, accuracy and throwing motion, the coach said.
Manzano’s most potent weapon might be 6-foot-3, 160-pound receiver Dominic Konstan.
“He’s emerged as our big playmaker,” Adcox said. “He’s got the athleticism, the height, the speed … he’s a home run guy. I didn’t feel like we had one of those last year. He’s gonna take off.”
Countee and Orlando Perez will also be integral in the passing game, although Bray will have three new starters on the offensive line in front of him.
“We just have to do ‘us,’ ” Countee said. “We respect teams, but we don’t need to adjust to them. We want them to adjust to us.”
The Manzano defense was stellar last season and the reason why the Monarchs stayed in so many games. There are five starters back on that unit.
“We have the potential to be just as good as we were last year, if not better,” said Adcox, whose defense surrendered a stingy 15.7 points a game in 2013.
It’s a young and untested defensive line, save for Potter, but Manzano has some fine linebackers, including seniors Tanner Huber and Cameron McMahan.
“To win,” said the 6-4, 230-pound Potter, “we’ll have to be a solid group, a physical group. But we just need to stay focused on the goal, doing our 1/11th on each side of the ball.”