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Prep football preview: Rio Rancho Rams

Coach: David Howes (10th year; 78-29)

Last season: 9-3; lost to Las Cruces in 6A quarterfinals

Returning starters: 4 offense, 4 defense

Key players: Adam Baca, sr. (5-10, 200, C); Ryan Ortiz, jr. (6-2, 250, OT); Jaylen

Morgan, sr. (5-10, 215, RB); Isaiah Chavez, jr. (5-11, 175, QB); Blaine Gallegos, sr. (6-4, 220, DE/TE); Tyler Woisin, jr. (5-9, 185, LB); Riley Siverts, sr. (5-9, 150, CB); Andrew Garcia, sr. (5-10, 150, CB); Jaylan Smith, jr. (5-11, 180, OLB); Tyler Barb, jr. (6-3, 210, G).

Outlook: This is a rarity for the Rams, a Rio Rancho team that might actually not be among the top contenders for a state title. Thus, expectations have been tempered. Howes said this will be the youngest team he’s ever had at Rio Rancho, although he believes it’s not the start of a trend. There could be nearly a dozen sophomores with roles this year, which would be highly unusual for the Rams. This team lost its starting QB and all its receivers (most, not all, to graduation), and that is where the focus should be in the first half of the year for a program that loves to throw and thrives in the air. Chavez is a fine dual-threat quarterback, Howes said. Jeremy Rotert and Elijah Alvarado are expected to be among the top new ball catchers. “I’m very comfortable with what we have,” Howes said. The backfield is more solidified, led by Morgan. Speed on defense has improved, Howes said, but this team lost three players along the front to college.

2018 schedule

(x-denotes District 1-6A schedule)

Aug. 25, at Centennial (FOD), 7 p.m.

Aug. 31, Pine Creek, Colo., 7 p.m.

Sept. 7, at Clovis, 7 p.m.

Sept. 14, Las Cruces, 7 p.m.

Sept. 21, La Cueva, 7 p.m.

Sept. 28, IDLE

x-Oct. 6, at Cibola (C), 1 p.m.

x-Oct. 12, West Mesa, 7 p.m.

x-Oct. 19, at Atrisco Heritage (C), 7 p.m.

x-Oct. 26, Volcano Vista, 7 p.m.

x-Nov. 2, at Cleveland, 7 p.m.

Circle the date: With this younger-than-normal group, you figure the Rams need a few weeks to gain their footing. In that vein, the La Cueva visit in Week 5 should be a tremendous test, particularly for a retooled Rio Rancho offense going up against that stout Bears defense.