The St. Michael’s football program is one of those that falls under the category of perennial championship contender.
But, this season, the Horsemen are filling numerous holes left by graduating seniors, and the stable of up-and-coming wranglers is not quite up to the past.
“We lost a lot of seniors last year, so we have a lot to replace,” longtime coach Joey Fernandez said. “We have one starter offensively that started the whole season and a few kids that started a few games.”
And as two-a-days began, the program had less than 40 players, which is significantly fewer than in years past.
“It’s been tough,” he said. “The numbers have been down a little bit this year. In the past, the least we had was 47, but we didn’t get a lot of freshmen and we have a real small junior class, with five juniors. Hopefully, we can get a few more here in. Had some kids supposed to be coming out and so we hope to get the numbers up over 40.”
Senior lineman Jaden Mifsud (5 feet, 11inches, 195 pounds) will be the rock for St. Michael’s on both side of the line.
Joining him the line, senior center Seth Temple (6-0, 165) has lost significant weight, which should help his quickness.
The big change for the Horsemen this season will be the commitment to one quarterback as sophomore Lucas Coriz (6-2, 175) takes on the position full time after sharing it last year. In part-time action, he threw for 926 yards and eight touchdowns, and also ran for 137 more yards.
“Lucas is a talent,” Fernandez said. “To be able to start and do what he did last year as a freshman is something. He’s got a lot of talent. He just needed the experience, getting in games. This year, we’re looking for him to be the man. He’s going to be one of the go-to guys.”
Senior Rico Gurule (6-1, 170) is one of many new faces that will be expected to contribute downfield.
“We have a lot of skill position players that I feel comfortable with,” Fernandez said. “Rico played a little bit at receiver, but we had a lot of good seniors. So it was hard to get him a lot of time. He’s ready to go. He’s proven in the summer that he’s going to be a good one for us.”
Senior power runner Ray Lynch (5-8, 195) will take over backfield duties and is capable of moving the pile, Fernandez said.
On the defensive side of the ball, junior Lucas Montoya (5-9, 160) started about half the games in 2018 and will be one of the leaders at middle linebacker.
The Horsemen have long loved the passing game and Fernandez said he’s looking forward to seeing how well the team can feed off that.
“I design what I do offensively around the skill position players that we have,” he said. “When you have a quarterback who can throw the ball really well, you have to put some stuff in and work the system around the talent that we have there. That’s pretty much what we’re going to do.”
That being said, the offense will likely be a bit more basic, with an emphasis on execution.
“We’re putting in as much of our offense as we can and, as the season goes, cleaning it up and making it better,” Fernandez said. “We don’t want to do a whole lot of stuff that we have done in the past. We want to do stuff better. With us, getting as many repetitions with the same kind of stuff is going to help us.”
A big key will be getting out to a decent start against Class 4A state champion Taos, and 4A semifinalists Portales and Bloomfield opening the season.
“When we set up the schedule (last year), we knew it was going to be the tough, but we didn’t realize it as going to be as tough as it was,” he said. “This season, we know what to expect.”