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James Yodice: More talent makes this year’s All-Metro selections tough

As prep football in the metro area grows and expands, and asserts its influence over the rest of New Mexico as much as it ever has, it is concurrently accurate that my selection process for our All-Metro teams is growing more difficult by the year.

The pool of athletes here is as deep and rich as it’s ever been, and in fact I am already thinking about ways to expand this list a bit starting in 2018, without losing sight of our core beliefs in terms of how these teams should be constructed.

In any event, let’s get on with our 2017 selections. (As today is my birthday, I’m asking all of you who want to lodge a complaint to wait until Monday. Then you can lock and load.)

From the many qualified candidates on the quarterback board — and there were more than a few — my first-team choice of Eldorado junior Gabe Smith will likely come as a surprise to many.

However, Smith proved to be not just a reliable dual-threat QB for the Eagles (2,300 passing yards and 34 touchdowns, plus another 900 rushing yards and eight additional TDs), but a supremely dangerous one. Smith was the most well-rounded and efficient player at that position this season, in my opinion.

There were four stellar running backs from which to choose, and a combination of any two of them would leave me feeling comfortable. This year, that first-team duo is Belen junior Diego Casillas and Cleveland senior Isaac Torres.

Casillas’ monster season with the Eagles could not be ignored, not after rushing for nearly 2,700 yards and scoring 33 touchdowns and going over 240 yards no fewer than seven times. That kind of talent translates in any classification.

Torres is probably the most versatile back from the metro area, not only because of his 1,751 rushing yards and his excellent per-carry average of 7.3, but also because of his value to the Storm in the passing game, where Cleveland often targeted the speedy and elusive Torres in open space.

At the receiver position, La Cueva’s Reece Wilkinson required almost no thought as I sat down to choose our top three. His inclusion was a must with 70-plus grabs and 17 touchdowns.

Ditto Andrew Erickson, even though his receiving numbers were relatively modest. Erickson was a hugely valuable piece of that Class 6A champion Manzano offense, and his first-team mention gives me no pause whatsoever.

The third member of the receiving corps is Ryan McGaha (64-872 and 11 scores), who leaves St. Pius in possession of all of the school’s career and single-season receiving records.

For the second straight year, Manzano’s Jordan Byrd is my first-team “athlete.” He’s a superb running QB, underrated as a passer — he connected on about 70 percent of his throws, though the Monarchs, for obvious reasons, weren’t forced to the air all that much — and, I would say, the toughest quarterback in any class. Jordan dished out as much punishment when he ran as when he absorbed. And he was dinged up this year, more than you might realize.

The offensive line includes a pair of 5A studs, with the imposing Troy Skinner of Los Lunas at center and Del Norte’s outstanding Chase Latimore at guard.

Those two join Cleveland guard Mike Taylor — who might have been the best lineman in 6A — plus tackles Evan Tafoya-Vallo of Rio Rancho and Greg Romero of Manzano.

I am rewarding the big left leg of Hope Christian junior Vince Quezada at place-kicker. This is a kid who could — and should — be kicking for a Division I program someday. West Mesa’s Camren Schroer is our first-team punter.

Moving on to the defense — as usual, it’s a spectacular group of athletes.

Rio Rancho end Keshawn Banks heads the list and is joined up front by La Cueva’s Ryan McClain, Manzano’s Deveyion Jackson and Belen’s Rowdy Robinson, who registered 28 sacks for the Eagles.

There are always more terrific linebackers than can be recognized, and narrowing this list to eight (four per team) is a chore.

But the four first-teamers I’ve selected — La Cueva’s Derek Loidolt, Manzano’s Cameron Herrera, Rio Rancho’s Cailon Bailon and Cleveland’s Dominic Thompson — are an outstanding quartet. Game-changers, one and all.

In the secondary, we’ve got three more superstars in Eldorado’s Javien Chavez (eight interceptions), Atrisco Heritage’s Rashawn Moore (six picks and a top tackler) and La Cueva’s Hunter Cardiff, who was always moving downhill from his safety position for the Bears.

I congratulate them all.

And to everyone, happy holidays.

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