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Prep football: Players to watch for 2019 season

Many names you’ll see in headlines and stories, and all of them are expected to heavily contribute to their teams over the next three months. Forthwith, a rundown of some of the key players to track during the upcoming high school football season in the metro area:


QUARTERBACK: For the second straight year, one could argue that the top three quarterbacks in the metro area hail from District 1-6A.

Jeff Davison (6-0, 185) is now a junior at Cleveland after helping the Storm reach the 6A championship game last December. Remarkably, he threw 26 touchdowns against just two interceptions as a sophomore.

Senior Isaiah Chavez (6-1, 174) of Rio Rancho is another in a long line of terrific QBs the Rams have produced over the last decade, and had over 2,200 yards and 24 TDs last year. He’s a superb runner, too.

At Volcano Vista, Diego Pavia (5-10, 185) returns to varsity football after sitting out the 2018 season because of transfer rules. As a sophomore at St. Pius, the dual-threat Pavia threw for 2,272 yards and 25 touchdowns, and ran for another 1,350/17.

One of the most interesting arcs will be the performance of senior Austin Smith (5-11, 140) at La Cueva. He’s played some varsity QB in each of the last two seasons, including a couple of playoff games in 2017. Moreover, Smith has a bumper crop of receivers at his disposal.

Kade Benavidez (6-1, 185) will be tasked with leading Los Lunas to another deep playoff run after taking over from the injured Nick Gaerlan midway through last season. Benavidez, like Smith, is a senior surrounded by talented skill-position athletes. Benavidez, who threw for over 1,700 yards and 12 touchdowns last season in relief, is considered a pure passer.

RUNNING BACK: To learn more about the state’s best returning ball carrier, read the comeback story on Cleveland’s Dorian Lewis (5-8, 185) that published in Sunday’s Journal (CLICK HERE).

At Eldorado, junior Elijah Goree (5-10, 175) and senior Ben West (6-0, 190) combined for nearly 1,800 yards and 18 touchdowns last season, and that tandem returns to wreak more havoc.

Del Norte junior Isaiah Ortiz (5-7, 170) is looking to build off a 1,200-yard sophomore campaign that included a mention in Sports Illustrated after a 430-yard, 8-TD effort against Los Alamos.

Sandia senior LeShawn Joseph (5-10, 190) could be poised for a big season in coach Chad Adcox’s new offense, having put up over 900 yards with 11 touchdowns as a junior.

RECEIVER/SLOT: The list here begins, obviously, with La Cueva’s 6-foot-4, 210-pound Connor O’Toole, the state’s most sought-after player with 19 scholarship offers (the latest being Arizona, on Saturday) on the table already, almost all of them from Division I schools and many from Power 5 conference schools like LSU and Florida State. He caught 43 passes for 867 yards and eight scores a year ago.

But his running mate Nas Robertson (5-8, 160) put up better numbers last year than even O’Toole, grabbing 53 balls for 1,020 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Cleveland junior Tre Watson (6-5, 210) caught nine touchdowns for the Storm last season, and has at least two D-1 offers in NMSU and Columbia. Physically, Watson is perhaps the only receiver that can match the skill set of La Cueva’s O’Toole.

Manzano senior Austin Erickson (6-1, 180), whose older brother Andrew is a Lobo receiver, caught 730 yards worth of passes with 10 TDs for the Monarchs last year. Both Erickson and Watson were 6A second-team All-State choices in 2018.

Los Lunas senior Andrue Garcia (5-10, 150) is the top returning target in the Tigers’ pass offense and a player that can stretch the field as well as anyone, evidence his 22.1 yards per catch last season.

St. Pius senior slot Isaiah Griffin (5-8, 160) accounted for over 1,000 yards from scrimmage with 16 touchdowns as he earned second-team All-State honors in Class 4A, and averaged nearly 20 yards a catch.

Defense/Special Teams

It has to begin with Eldorado’s veteran lineman, senior Keith Alvarado (6-1, 240), who is a four-year varsity starter with the Eagles and who was voted to 6A’s All-State first team as a junior.

From Los Lunas, junior defensive end Tyler Kiehne (6-4, 250) already has two D-1 offers, from New Mexico and Toledo, and several other notable programs circling him.

Alvarado’s teammate, nose tackle Joey Burke (5-11, 235), along with Manzano junior cornerback Teasi Richardson (6-0, 160) and La Cueva senior safety Jacob Carbajal (5-10, 155) were each second-team All-State players last season. St. Pius also returns a pair of All-State (Class 4A) second-team athletes in senior linebacker Scott McGaha (5-8, 155) and senior safety Ryan McCormick (5-8, 155).

• La Cueva’s Dominic Camacho has been a stellar placekicker, and the All-State senior for the Bears is surely one of the top two or three kickers in the state. Eastern New Mexico already has offered him a scholarship.


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