SANTA FE, N.M. — It took four years for coach Art Abreu to build the Taos High School football program into a state champion.
And when the Tigers celebrated that success last season, it was a first for the program.
But now things starts anew as Taos said goodbye to the bulk of the squad that beat Bloomfield 14-7 in the Class 4A championship game.
“We’re looking young, but not quite a brand new team,” Abreu said. “There are a lot of brand new guys stepping into new shoes and big roles. We’re going to be asking a lot as far as maturing quickly in the short term.”
That being said, Abreu said he likes the attitude this new group of Tigers are displaying.
“We’re looking young and we’re looking scrappy,” he said.
And that’s kind of the way he likes it.
“It’s going to sound cliché, very Belichick-like,” Abreu said, referring to uber-successful New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. “Our expectations are to be there again. I do understand what I lost this past year, but my expectation for being competitive every year has not (been lost).”
The few returning starters are already making it known to the varsity newcomers what’s expected of them, Abreu said, starting with the line behind All-State senior center and middle linebacker Santiago Salazar (5 feet, 10 inches, 270 pounds).
“That’s some girth. It’s all in his thighs,” Abreu said with a chuckle. “But that was the plan last year, was to let him grow with the senior line and let him learn with that line. This year, it’s sunk in. He got to feel that intensity. He’s going to have two sophomores on the line to his left, but he’s coming in as the senior leader and that should help us out tremendously.”
Likewise, a lot is expected from jack-of-all-trades senior Angel Limas (5-11, 195). He’ll be a wide receiver and occasionally line up in the backfield. He’ll be a defensive back, and he’ll handle all the kicks and punts.
“He’s doing his part in the skill positions,” Abreu said. “Everything is going to revolve around him. Through most of the season, he led the state in scoring with the field goals and extra points and touchdowns, but in the state playoffs, there was only one ball completed to the outside. That was it.”
“But he was Mr. Everything as far as the shutdown game, playing some tough man-to-man defense,” Abreu added. “And he has had a heck of a summer. Squatting 505, cleaning 255. He really accepted the fact that this is his last year and he is going to put his best foot forward.”
The final returning starter, junior defensive back Simon Torres (5-8, 160) “is a fast guy. He was in on the infamous goal-line stand last year,” Abreu said of the game-saving sequence that halted the opposing Bobcats inside the five-yard line with time running out in the fourth quarter of the championship game.
One of the big changes for Taos this year will be at quarterback, where senior Noah Armijo (6-5, 215) is expected to step right in. As an all-district pitcher last year, Armijo displayed the arm strength that might allow the Tigers to open up the offense some.
“To run the same exact offense, that’s not going to happen, but something similar,” Abreu said. “We’ll look at some different options and different formations to get the ball going vertically. But we’ll always be a run-first team. That’s something we always want to establish.”
And now it’s just a matter of getting the new Tigers to realize what they need to do.
“Sustained success is accomplished by the hard work Januarys through Julys,” Abreu said. “Our program is one of the top-notch programs in the state of New Mexico. We go hard no matter what day it is, no matter what month it is. We believe that we can be competitive year in and year out, and if not, it’s the coaches’ fault.”