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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.
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.