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Moving in a positive direction

SANTA FE, N.M. — Representing a residential school with students that come from across the state, the Santa Fe Indian School football team faces some unique challenges when it comes to summer preparation.

But for a change, coach Carl Vigil was able to collect enough players together and get his young squad some experience at a couple of 7-on-7 summer passing camps.

And that’s a good thing as the Braves, coming off a four-win season, will be entering perhaps the most grueling of the Class 3A districts with traditional behemoths Robertson and St. Michael’s, up-and-coming West Las Vegas and an improved Raton squad.

What’s more, SFIS will be breaking in a new quarterback after three-year starter Alec Lee graduated.

Junior Shaun Riley (5 foot, 7 inches, 130 pounds) is the apparent frontrunner, said Vigil, while sophomore Julian Martinez (5-7, 130) is more of a project.

“I think we’re looking pretty good with what we’ve got,” Vigil said. “Riley is really athletic. And I started working with Martinez in the middle of last year, and he’s coming along pretty well. He’s got a strong arm, and he’s constantly in the weight room and never misses a practice.”

Vigil has top running back Anders Pecos (5-7, 140, Sr.) coming back. And Izell Latoma (5-8, 170, Sr., FB/LB) will help carry the load in the backfield and also is expected to be a force at linebacker.

Nashone Yazzie (6-0, 190, Jr., C/DL) has the strength to secure both lines, and it will be needed as he has by far the most experience of the returning players in the pit.

One player who is easy to overlook, at least until the pads start popping, is Terrell Toledo (5-8, 130, Sr., MLB/WR). He’s is an indispensible player, Vigil said.

“He’s probably going to be the anchor on the team,” the coach said. “He makes sure kids are doing things right and correctly. He’ll be the X receiver, single-set receiver. Last year, we tried to change things up with smaller, quicker linebackers. Since he knows the defense pretty well, he’ll be moving to middle linebacker. He’s not afraid of mixing it up and he has a knack for the ball. He runs track and is an excellent runner, and he’s definitely not afraid of those big guys up front.”

One of the things that truly gives Vigil some optimism is not only the fact that many of the players continued their weight-room work through the end of the last school year, but also that many seemed to have been working out over the summer on their own.

“We continue to take small steps,” he said. “The program continues to get better and better. The kids are buying into the team with the ultimate goal of getting to the state playoffs for the first time in I don’t know how long. They’ve shown up and they’re ready to go.”

It’s been quite a change for the team, he said.

“We had a pretty good turnout in the weight room, 15-16 kids every single day,” Vigil said. “When I first started, we would have 3-4 kids. From when I initially got here nine years ago as an assistant, we have gotten trimmer as far as weight goes, and we’ve gotten stronger and faster. I think it’s making a difference.”

Add in the passing work over the summer and the Braves are certainly moving in a positive direction toward building a program.

“We really started to gain a presence with the 7-on-7 appearances,” Vigil said. “I’d like to get them to more, but it’s hard to get these kids from where they’re all from. But I like what we’re doing. These kids really had a great time with 7 on 7. So defensively and offensively, these kids are such great kids and they respond to coaching so well.”