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Building unity

SANTA FE, N.M. — Coming together as a team is an annual rite of passage and the key to success for the Los Alamos High School football team.

So, even through the Hilltoppers are coming off a 6-4 season that left them just shy of the playoffs for a sixth straight year, coach Garett Williams is putting the squad through a familiar grind.

“For us, every summer, especially right now, our biggest thing is trying to build some … unity and get these kids to come together as team,” he said. “We want to build some of that cohesion and come together a little bit.”

It also means repetition after repetition on the team’s signature option offense that requires precision from all 11 players to work properly.

“Right now, our big emphasis (is on) getting in shape and getting things installed early on,” Williams said, “Especially with the triple option. There are always some kinks, but we need to run it the same way every time. Being able to do it the same way every time is big for us. So, we’re getting a lot of early reps, especially on option stuff.”

Although the two leading ground gainers for the ‘Toppers from a year ago have graduated, it helps that starting quarterback Dylan Irish (5 foot 11 inches, 185 pounds, Sr.) is back to run the show.

“For us, that’s huge,” Williams said. “He’s a big, strong kid, much improved. He’s a tough kid. We’re going to look for him to do a lot of things for us, especially in the option offense.”

Irish gained 285 yards with six touchdowns rushing a year ago, averaging 5.2 yards a carry, but his passing needs to improve as he completed just 35 percent of his attempts.

He’ll have a playmaking receiver in Walker Eaton (6-2, 175, Sr., WR/DB), who can also seal the end on runs.

“He didn’t have a ton of catches, but he made some big catches for us,” Williams said. “But even more important for us is he’s also a good blocker on the outside.”

Joining Irish in the backfield, Cade Yost (5-11, 170 pounds, Sr., RB/OLB) gained 283 yards and averaged 10.5 yards a carry.

“He’s extremely smart and physical,” the coach said. “He’s one of those players who can do everything for us.”

Up front, Los Alamos has some big holes to fill, but there is also promise among potential newcomers. Williams is optimistic the line will be a strength this season behind veterans Justin Gilbert (6-1, 215, Sr., OT/DE) and Levi Guarello (6-1, 230, Sr., C, DL).

“We’ve got kids coming in on the front line who are going to be a big help to us,” he said. “I think we’re going to be a lot more solid up front than we were last year. I think across the board, we may be more improved just because we’re a lot more solid at every spot. Those guys are going to be playing defense, too. Guys are going to be going both ways. That junior class coming up has a lot of kids who are linemen type. We’re a lot deeper on the offensive and defensive line.”

Throw in Lawrence Armenta (5-9, 175, Sr., MLB) defensively and that side of the ball starts look pretty solid, as well, Williams said.

Now, the Hilltoppers look to return the playoffs after a lengthy absence, knowing they likely will have to win District 2-5A to earn a berth.

“That’s always a motivating factor,” he said. “It’s our goal and it has always been. We start talk about that stuff right after the season. ‘What is the goal for next year?’ And that’s always one of them; win a district championship and make the playoffs. We’ve been really close the last several years, usually one game out of it. With the new alignment, it’s going to come down to one of us is going to have to win the district championship, especially with fewer teams going. That’s a huge goal for these guys.”