Even during the hot summer workouts a month ago, for Taos High School head football coach Art Abreu Jr., there was just one goal: Get to the season’s final game and bring home the blue trophy.
No matter that the Tigers had never before reached those heights.
“I said then the goal was never to be the paper champion in August,” Abreu said. “It was to be the hardware champion in December.”
With the football season approaching its midpoint, others are taking notice of the team’s hot 4-0 start. Taos has been ranked No. 1 in the Class 4A NMOTSC coaches poll the past two weeks.
And why not, as the Tigers have outscored opponents 218-45, with the only “close” game coming in week three, a 63-27 shellacking of highly regarded Aztec.
That was the game that truly convinced Abreu that the Tigers have the makings for a special season.
“Aztec is a very tough football team and it was supposed to go down to the wire,” he said. “I was very nervous leading up to that one. … My guys are on a different level mentally, physically, emotionally. This might be one of those seasons. As coaches, we’re just trying to get them better every day.”
Abreu took over the team four seasons and ago and he targeted that freshmen class as the group that would take the Tigers to the next level.
Now 13 of that group remain as seniors, many having played together or against each other since their youth football days.
“This senior class bought into the overall program of execution,” Abreu said. “Each one is being a leader and pushing the younger guys to fall in line. They’re hard-nosed guys that want to play football and they love the hard work, so that makes my job a lot easier.”
Justin Good has stepped into the role of quarterback and has a dream job in that he’s only had to throw it an average of eight times a game. But even with just 32 attempts on the season, Good has nine touchdowns because other teams are loading up the line desperately trying – usually unsuccessfully – to stuff the run.
“We’re seeing nine and 10 in the box at times,” Abreu said. “Yet we’re still progressively moving down the field methodically and yet very physically.”
And that makes Good’s job pretty easy.
“We run the ball a lot so it opens up the passing game,” he said. “I like this as a quarterback.”
Abreu points to the front line of Dominic Lopez, Estevan Valerio, Tyler Gomez, Clayton Demas and Santiago Salazar – all seniors except junior Salazar – as being the strength behind the team’s success.
“Having an offensive line that can re-establish the line of scrimmage every down is nice,” Abreu said.
“If I single out one, I’m doing a discredit to all to them,” he said. “They’re all important to the team. What makes them so strong is what they do in the offseason. They don’t miss practice. They find reasons to be at practice. They love their brothers, their brothers on the line. They sacrifice that much more for the guy next to them.”
Certainly, the rest of the team loves what the offensive line does.
Leading halfback Jonathan Garcia said it’s almost unfair how good the group is.
“It’s awesome,” said Garcia, who has 735 yards and six TDs. “They don’t block only one guy. They block two or three. I think they’re the best line in the state.”
What makes them so good is not so much their size, but their quickness, he said.
“A lot of other teams, they have big lines, but they’re not as fast,” Garcia said. “I think they’re the reason for our success. Probably the biggest part. Sometimes they knock them on the ground. A lot of time, my touchdowns, I don’t get touched by anybody.”
The key now, Abreu said, is keeping the Tigers focused on the task ahead, because there’s still a long way to go to reach the ultimate goal.
“We’re just really keeping them with a humble and hungry approach to each and every day, not allowing distractions. Being disciplined each and every day, and taking each and every opportunity to make sure we’re getting better each and every day.”