The last time Santa Fe was pushed into Class 6A, the Demons were unprepared for the step and it was an unmitigated disaster.
Things are significantly different now as Santa Fe is coming off a four-win season that saw the Demons go down to the final game battling for a playoff berth.
“Going through last year, having some success, more success than we’ve had in a while by doubling up on the wins from the previous year and being in just about every game – other than a couple – to the very end, that’s a part of the growth process,” coach Andrew Martinez said.
Santa Fe was still a young team last season, but this season it will be have strong talent that is experienced.
“Being juniors and seniors this year will really help,” Martinez said. “Having them compete and win at the very end. We dropped very close games, several of them that we could have won. Those are the things that helped us grow.”
That growing phase is starting to fade, however, as the Demons look ahead to new challenges.
“Experience really helps and the more reps you get with anything, the better you get,” Martinez said. “I don’t feel we’re in a rebuilding phase any more. Our classes are solid all the way through. Those are big things.”
Although the Demons have two starters entering their fourth year as such.
That, however, will become more of a rarity as the program continues to mature.
“But that’s a real big help,” he said. “They understand what it’s going to take now.”
It is just a matter of incremental improvement, Martinez said.
“That’s the mindset,” the coach said. “Every year, trying to go ahead and build off your past season’s success. Now, they know what to expect. They understand the challenge that’s set forth in front of them. They’re a group and a program that’s not going to back down any more. They’re confident in what they’re doing and they have a good relationship with each other.”
The Demons have not taken the practice field yet, but are expected to do so for the first time Monday to begin to work out the kinks and get ready for the season.
And the team will be looking for leadership from those four-year starters: Matt Maestas (LB, 5 feet, 11 inches, 185 pounds, Sr.) who had a team-best 153 tackles last season, despite lingering injuries. He also caused four fumbles and recovered three.
Although restricted to the defensive side of the ball, “he’s been poking me that he wants to play some tight end, so we’ll see,”
And Jesús “Chuy” Guzman (DL, 6-3, 275, Sr.) can dominate the line of scrimmage.
“He’s really a force to be reckoned with,” Martinez said. “He’s a really strong young man. He doesn’t look like he’d be that big, but he has a lot of muscle mass. He moves very well for his size. He’s one of the ones that you want stepping off the bus first.”
Both Guzman and Maestas have a desire to play college ball, as well, Martinez said.
Offensively, things start with dual-threat quarterback Luc Jaramillo (5-7, 165, Jr.). He threw for 890 yards and ran for 285 more last year, but he also grew into the offense and should have more weapons around him this season.
“He really takes his game seriously,” Martinez said. “He watches a lot of film. He does all the things you wants a quarterback to do.”
Martell Mora (RB, 5-10, 165, Jr.) filled a big hole in the backfield and developed into a consistent threat running the ball or catching it. He finished with a team-best 851 yards rushing and 272 receiving yards on 20 catches – all team bests.
“Last year, he really came on for us as a big threat,” Martinez said. “He’s an all-purpose back. We can split him out and he can catch the ball. He can run between the tackles and he can get outside. He’s shifty and was our biggest threat last year because of all the things he can do.”
Elijah Martinez (RB, 5-8, 185, Jr.) proved to be a solid second option in the backfield as the team’s bruiser back and a strong, physical runner.
Isaiah Madril (WR, 5-10, 160, Jr.), Kevin Garcia (WR, 5-11, 170, Sr.) and Zack Martinez (WR, 5-6, 150, Jr.) all showed flashes of potential and the Demons are expecting significant production out of all three.
“We talk about it all the time,” Martinez said of the team’s outlook for the season. “Our expectations are to make the playoffs. I really feel going into the season, our destiny is in our own hands. The four pre-district games, all those teams we played really well against last year. And so we know what to expect. And then going into district, it’s a really good district. Very strong. We feel that we can compete in those ball games and put ourselves into a position to win.”