It’s really quite simple. This might be the best Manzano High School football team in two decades. Maybe ever.
After getting within a game of the Class 6A state championship game last season, the Monarchs — with 14 starters returning — open as the Journal’s No. 2 in our preseason top-five metro countdown.
“We really believe we can make it to the championship game,” said senior quarterback Jordan Byrd. “That’s one of our goals.”
And while the conversation inevitably begins with Byrd — as it should — it most certainly does not end with the future San Diego State Aztec.
Byrd, who started Manzano’s last five games at QB in 2016, is surrounded by top-flight talent, enough to expect this Manzano offense to hum beautifully. He is supplemented by bullish junior tailback Xavier Ivey-Saud (who may miss the season opener Wednesday against Atrisco with an upper body injury), another powerful runner in Alejandro Vallejos, and outside threats in Andrew Erickson and Jack Blankenship, plus an offensive line that returns almost entirely everyone.
Manzano was shipped out of last year’s playoffs, 35-7 by eventual state champion Rio Rancho in the state semifinals last November. Rio Rancho in Week 5 visits Manzano on a Saturday afternoon in what could be another playoff preview.
“As a team, last year we learned what it’s like to have that championship mentality (from Rio Rancho),” said Manzano coach Chad Adcox, starting his sixth season.
Manzano last reached the finals in 2010, and the 1996 team also played in the season’s last game.
The Monarchs hope that Rio Rancho has, in its own way, instructed them, indirectly, on what is required to jump as a group to the next level.
“I think it really showed us that we have a lot of talent, but if we don’t come together and stick together, we can’t beat a good team,” said Erickson. “We kind of freaked out a little bit. Now that we have that experience, we’ll take that into the season and kind of roll over some (teams).”
Manzano opens as the favorite in District 2-6A.
Byrd will shoulder the brunt of the pressure on that offense, and says he has sharpened his skills as a reader of defenses and also as a thrower, two aspects he hasn’t been required to do regularly at Manzano until this year. He’ll also have Ivey-Saud, with over 1,000 yards last season, behind him to alleviate some of the aerial burden.
“He’s gonna kill it,” Byrd said. “This is gonna be his year.”
The defense has five, three-year starters, led by Vallejos at linebacker and the team’s leading tackler from a year ago. Manzano had the second-best defense in the metro area behind only Rio Rancho; linebackers Cameron Herrera and Noah Baca and tackle Deveyion Jackson also will be instrumental on that side.
Manzano at a glance
Coach: Chad Adcox (6th year; 32-25)
Last season: 10-3; lost to Rio Rancho in Class 6A semifinals
Returning starters: 9 offense, 5 defense
Key players: Jordan Byrd, sr. (5-9, 170, QB); Andrew Erickson, sr. (6-1, 185, WR/CB); Alejandro Vallejos, sr. (5-8, 195, ILB/slot); Xavier Ivey-Saud, jr. (6-1, 195, RB); Greg Romero, sr. (5-10, 255, LT); Lou Bush, sr. (5-11, 260, RG); Jack Blankenship, jr. (6-4, 175, WR); Deveyion Jackson, sr. (6-0, 250, DT); Cameron Herrera, sr. (5-10, 190, ILB); Noah Baca, sr. (6-1, 185, OLB); Austin Walker, jr. (6-1, 220, OLB).
Outlook: The Monarchs are in just about every way positioned to be a major player come Thanksgiving and beyond. With Byrd a more polished QB, and with tremendous depth at the skill positions, Adcox plans to throw it more often this year. Erickson led the team in receiving, and looks quite ready to break out in a big way. Although, there are times when Byrd will become the most dangerous scrambler in this state, and once he gets outside on containment, it’s over. Ivey-Saud is a terrific runner; Bush and Romero both are three-year starters in front of him. An untested secondary is a concern on defense.
(x-denotes District 2-6A game)
Aug. 23 Atrisco Heritage (C)7 p.m.
Sept. 2 Centennial (W)
Sept. 8 at Cibola (C)
Sept. 15 at Del Norte (M)
Sept. 23 Rio Rancho (W)
Sept. 29 at Piedra Vista
x-Oct. 6 La Cueva (W)
x-Oct. 13 at Clovis7 p.m.
x-Oct. 19 at Eldorado (W)
Oct. 27 OPEN
x-Nov. 2 Sandia (W)7 p.m.
Circle the date: No question, it’s the Week 5 visit from Rio Rancho, which knocked Manzano out of last year’s playoffs. That has Game of the Year potential.