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Prep football: New head coach looks to keep it going at St. Pius

It’s rare when a high school football program opens defense of a state championship with a new coach, but the St. Pius Sartans will.

David Montoya, formerly the special teams coach under the now-retired San Juan Mendoza, takes the helm this season.

“I’m just really excited to be able to continue to work at Pius and be a part of that community that has been just awesome,” said Montoya.

Montoya is one of four new prep head coaches in the metro area for 2017. Here’s a look at them:

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St. Pius

Montoya, 40, joined the St. Pius coaching staff in 1998 and has two rings with the Sartans. The Tularosa native had been wanting to segue into a head coaching job for several years but remained loyal to Mendoza.

Montoya is a former Sartan football player, from 1991-94. He attended the University of New Mexico.

“The biggest challenge is just making sure we don’t change too much,” he said. “We know what the blueprint is to be successful.”

Los Lunas

The Tigers tapped into a proven commodity for their new head coach. Jeremy Maupin, who turns 31 next week, is an Artesia High School graduate and was a Bulldogs assistant when Los Lunas plucked him in February.

Jeremy Maupin, Los Lunas

“I created a list of places I would want to go,” Maupin said. “I decided it was a good place, and everyone I asked spoke very highly of it.”

Maupin coached Artesia’s wide receivers last season and had a hand in coordinating the Bulldogs offense. He also has served as a running backs coach and special teams coordinator in Artesia under coaching legend Cooper Henderson.

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“I want the success he had. I want to be at a program, have success and create the same type of legacy that he did,” Maupin said.

Los Lunas certainly will look different, as Maupin vowed to spread out the offense.

Highland

Like St. Pius’ Montoya, the Hornets turned to one of their own.

Phil Lovato in March took over a troubled program. He has been a longtime defensive coordinator at several schools in the city (La Cueva, Cibola, Valley), and this is his first head coaching job.

“I have an understanding of (Highland) football that I think is unique,” Lovato said.

Highland High School football coach Phil Lovato

“I’m looking forward to helping grow the program so it can continue the tradition.”

The Highland name has been one of prestige. But the Hornets have rarely been this bad off; they’ve won just three games over the three seasons prior to Lovato taking over.

But Lovato, 42, believes he’s the person to right a foundering ship.

“It’s an honor. I’m doing this for the alumni, the tradition, for my family that has gone through this school. I’m doing it for these kids,” Lovato said.

Rio Grande

The Ravens’ rebuild figures to be a monumental task, and it will require someone with patience — 66-year-old Dennis Minidis is Rio Grande’s new head man.

Rio Grande High School football coach Dennis Minidis

“I’m a firm believer that success breeds success,” Minidis said. “I have a philosophy: through self-discipline, you find excellence.”

He is a Michigan native who was an assistant with the school last year. He is a former assistant at Del Norte and St. Pius.

“At a certain point, I just felt like I could make a difference,” said Minidis. “And I decided to put my name in the hat.”

The Ravens haven’t won a game in nearly three calendar years.

“They have a strong desire to succeed,” Minidis said. “And our job is to help them reach those goals and once again become a competitive football team.”

Also of note

The two most prominent coaching hires outside the metro area occurred in Class 6A. Cal Fullerton, a Clovis alum, took over the Wildcats from the legendary Eric Roanhaus, and Scott Veliz, with West Texas coaching roots in Midland and El Paso, took over the Oñate Knights.

However, the most interesting coaching move may be the one made by Dale Hooper.

He left Alamogordo following last season, which was not necessarily a surprise since his son, quarterback Kyle, was a senior. Kyle signed with Western New Mexico, and his father is taking over at Lordsburg, which is a short drive from Silver City. This is his second coaching stint at Lordsburg, where Hooper has long owned a ranch.

Another New Mexico football coaching legend, Louie Baisa, retired after leading the Mavericks to the Class 2A championship last season.

A.J. Cisco, son of Jack Cisco and a longtime assistant coach with his dad at Hatch Valley, takes over the Alamogordo program from Hooper, who helped make the Tigers competitive again.

Santa Fe won’t be part of a district this year, but the Demons, playing as an independent, also have a new coach in former St. Michael’s defensive coordinator Andrew Martinez.

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