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Hilltoppers hoping speed will take them to the playoffs

So close.

That’s what Los Alamos football coach Garett Williams tells his team.

The Hilltoppers have been oh, so close.

Los Alamos quarterback Tyler Weiss, a junior, tosses a pass in practice Wednesday. The Hilltoppers are looking to take the next step and reach the state playoffs this year. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

For the past four years, Los Alamos has been one district win from capturing a district championship and earning a coveted state playoff berth.

But it was 2011 when the Hilltoppers last reached the postseason.

“That’s the goal every year, win a district championship and go to the playoffs,” Williams said. “It’s something the past few years that we have constantly been right on the verge of. We spent a lot of time this spring talking about it. We’ve got to find those ways to take that next step.”

It is frustrating, he said, because the pattern seems to repeat so often.

“We’re one game away from competing for the district title,” Williams said. “That’s something we’re really looking to get back. We want to take that next step with these guys.”

The problem is that so frequently the ‘Toppers are fighting a numbers game, with too many starters who are playing on both sides of the ball.

“With us, a lot of times, it’s a depth issue,” Williams said. “We’re trying to stay healthy by the end of the year. When you don’t, it’s hard to compete at the end of the year.”

This season, however, that might change as the squad has more athletes available than in quite some time. And that’s a particularly good thing as the team graduated 13 from last season.

“We’re in a situation this year where we have the opportunity, at least athlete wise, to compete with some people. Our junior varsity, most of them are going to be juniors, was 7-1, only by a 2-point conversion, so they’re used to winning,”

Chief among the varsity newcomers will be new starting quarterback, junior Tyler Weiss (5 feet, 9 inches, 155 pounds), who will be running the team’s trademark option offense.

“He’s not a big kid, but he’s got great speed,” Williams said. “He’s hard to handle and he’s a real smart kid.”

Luckily for Weiss, two of the Hilltoppers’ returning starters are senior offensive linemen Joshua Carson (6-3, 230) and Dimitri Bullock (6-0, 210).

“They’ve played together on the same side since they were freshmen,” Williams said. “So we’ve got a couple of guys who work pretty well together. They also play defensive end. That’s the way we roll. There are not a lot of big dudes up here, so if you’re a big dude, you’re going to be going both ways at some point.”

The backfield also will feature two more returning starters in fullback Matthew Archuleta (5-11, 190) and running back Ryan Schwarzkopf (6-0, 170).

Archuleta “is a big kid, tough runner,” Williams said. “He’s always going to break the first tackle and it’s going to take multiple kids to bring him down.”

Schwarzkopf is more of a speed guy who will be counted on to hit the openings in the line and spread the defense width-wise across the line of scrimmage.

One of the real positives Williams sees is that the team has plenty of giddy-up in its hitch.

“Overall, our team speed is going to be significantly better than last year,” he said. “We have freshmen and sophomores from last year who are going to be in some starting spots for us, but athletically wise, speed-wise. I think it’s going to be a pretty good jump.”

And that has Williams excited about the possibilities.

“We’ve got a bunch of young guys that love to play and they go at it,” he said. “They’re competitive. Size-wise, our young kids may not be real big, but they’re athletic and we have better team speed than we’ve had in a while. We need to find ways to take advantage of that. We’re going to run our offense and run our defense because it’s what we believe in and it gives us an opportunity to compete with people and do some things. But we have to take advantage of the kids we have.”