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Prep football 2011: Capsules for all metro-area teams

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — — Compiled By James Yodice and Ken Sickenger

Coach: Kevin Carroll (23rd season; 131-96)
Last year: 11-1; District 5-3A champions. Beat Socorro 63-21 in first round of 3A playoffs, beat Raton 49-14 in 3A semifinals, lost 60-43 to Lovington in state championship game.
Returning starters: 4 offense, 4 defense
Key players: Nash Phillips, sr. (5-10, 175, RB/S/K/P); Louis Volk, sr. (6-2, 185, QB/LB); Alex Harrison, sr. (5-8, 155, RB/QB); Tyler Root, sr. (5-11, 220, C/NG); Aislin Cooper, jr. (6-2, 215, DE/OT); Kase Ratley, sr. (5-10, 175, LB); Ian Thulin, sr. (6-2, 240, OT).
Outlook: Coming off a magnificent season, the Chargers look to reload and remain one of 3A’s dominant programs. Lack of size and depth (especially along the lines) remain an issue, but the Chargers should again be one of the state’s best at this division. Quarterback is a crucial position this year, especially, after UNM recruit Brandon Branch graduated. Carroll was still deciding between Volk and Harrison at QB, and he has the luxury of a late opener (Sept. 2) to pick one or the other. Whoever doesn’t start at quarterback will retain a prominent role in the offense. There is good team speed led by Phillips, a do-it-all type athlete. Academy has question marks at wide receiver and in the secondary.

Coach: Mike Zufall (1st season)
Last year: 1-9
Returning starters: 3 offense, 4 defense
Key players: Frank Chavez, sr. (5-11, 190, QB); Jared Griego, sr. (5-9, 160, RB); Mareon Gray, jr. (6-6, 275, OT/DE); Mister Birdo, jr. (6-6, 290, OT/DT); D’Yon Santiago, jr. (5-5, 145, RB/S); Xavier Ayers, sr. (5-11, 160, slot/S); Sonny Barela, jr. (5-9, 150, 5-9, 150); Saevonne Dorn, sr. (6-2, 160, DB/WR); Kenny Pruitt, soph. (5-9, 240, DT); Dominic Mondragon, jr. (6-1, 190, DE).
Outlook: The Bulldogs, despite Gray and Birdo, are relatively small, so they’ll try to utilize a spread and take advantage of their speed on both sides of the ball. Zufall wants to mix up looks and formations, because that is probably AHS’ best shot to do some damage when it has the ball. “The key,” he said, “is being flexible.” And, becoming a tougher football team, mentally and physically. Defensively, same philosophy — don’t show the same look too often. AHS has lost nine in a row, dating back to Week 2 of last year. Can the Bulldogs be a darkhorse in a relatively wide-open District 5-5A? Zufall won’t discount the idea, although AHS has some catching up to do with Valley and West Mesa, not to mention the league favorite, Highland. Note: Griego earlier this year was invited to a top prep football all-star camp, Football University’s Top Gun camp in Virginia.

Coach: Angel Castillo (2nd season; 0-10)
Last year: 0-10
Returning starters: 10 offense, 10 defense
Key players: Jeremy Sanchez, jr. (5-10, 185, RB); Nate Goode, jr. (5-11, 170, QB); Julian Mora, sr. (5-10, 170, sr.); Christian Tarbox, sr. (5-11, 250, C-T); D.J. Maestas, sr. (6-1, 175, slot); Jose Ortega, sr. (5-9, 210, FBSS); E.J. Marquez, jr. (5-8, 195, LB); Raphael Barraza, sr. (6-0, 260, DT); Ben Gallardo, sr. (6-0, 180, CB); Miguel Jimenez, sr. (5-11, 160, S): Junior Campillo, jr. (5-9, 155, SS).
Outlook: After going 0-10, the Jags can only get better, and they certainly should improve greatly over last year. Some keys: being more physical up front on both sides of the ball, cutting down on turnovers and playing with confidence. Sanchez could be a 1,000-yard rusher and Tarbox is the top lineman, but Atrisco Heritage must throw the ball more effectively if it hopes to keep its defense off the field. Last year, AHA was outscored 398-77 and the defense was physically worn down. The Jags hope to make a big jump between their first and second varsity seasons.

Coach: John Lerma (4th season; 33-4)
Last year: 11-1; District 6-4A champions. Beat Los Lunas 54-0 in 4A quarterfinals, lost 37-33 to Aztec in 4A semifinals.
Returning starters: 2 offense, 2 defense
Key players: Killian Garcia, sr. (5-10, 230, G/DT);  Zachary Martin, jr., (6-4, 195, WR); Nick Kurtz, jr., (5-11, 175, QB); Shawn Strain, jr., (5-11, 245, OT); Wyatt Robinson, jr., (5-7, 155, RB); Valentino Barron, sr. (5-8, 185, FB); Javier Armijo, jr., (5-9, 180, FB); Dylan Greenlee, sr. (5-11, 210, MLB); Joseph Castillo, sr. (6-1, 210, DE); Dustin Breeze, jr. (6-5, 290, DT);  Danny Chavez, jr. (5-6, 160, LB); Martin Peralta, jr. (6-0, 165, FS); Andrew Castillo, soph. (5-7, 145, CB).
Outlook: The Eagles are in work in progress, especially on offense as about 95 percent of their total yards from 2010 graduated. Belen will miss that experience and leadership. “Our young kids have to step up. It’ll be a challenge,” Lerma said. The Eagles are young on both sides of the ball. Kurtz, Robinson, Barron and Armijo will have the ball in their hands the majority of the time on offense. There is “adequate” speed here, Lerma said, but little varsity experience. He is more excited about the defense, particularly the front seven. The secondary is young, but if the defense can perform at a high level, it may be able to overcome an offense that doesn’t seem to be as high-powered as in recent seasons.

Coach: Ken Noel (6th season; 28-23)
Last year: 5-6; District 2-4A champions. Lost 42-12 to Farmington in first round of 4A playoffs.
Returning starters: 4 offense, 2 defense
Key players: Donovan Aguilar, sr. (5-7, 155, WR); Devante Thomas, sr. (6-0, 180, QB); Devin Samora, jr. (5-10, 200, C); Clayton Pankey, jr. (5-10, 240, OT); Tyler Longley, sr. (6-3, 180, FS); Luke Lucero, soph. (5-8, 165, RB); Jose Monclova, soph. (5-10, 165, TE); Troy Calabaza, soph. (5-10, 220, OT); Jonathan Lithgow, sr. (5-10, 170, WR); Victor Trujillo, soph. (5-8, 170, LB); Nick Reyes, soph. (5-8, 150, CB); Devin VanHoose, soph. (5-8, 160, LB); Seneca Valencia, sr. (5-10, 165, OLB).
Outlook: With such a young group, the Spartans are going to have work hard to get back to the playoffs for a third straight year. Thomas is probably one of the better all-around athletes among 4A QBs, but he needs help — mostly from the offensive line, and also from Lucero in the backfield — to relieve some of the pressure. Lucero’s older brother Greg was among the best players this program ever produced. And Bernalillo figures to do more throwing this year. A young defense is certain to be tested early and often against a tough schedule. Bernalillo needs to stay healthy to make a run at another district championship in 2-4A. On a positive note, the Spartans’ large group of sophomores are pretty talented.

Coach: Judge Chavez (6th season; 34-24)
Last year: 4-7; lost 28-7 to Eldorado in first round of 5A playoffs.
Returning starters: 3 offense, 0 defense
Key players: Brett Saxon, sr. (6-1, 180, QB); Cory Ross, jr. (5-10, 160, RB); Rick Ornelas, jr. (6-0, 235, C); Drew Janis, jr. (5-10, 160, WR/DB); Angelo Padilla, sr. (6-1, 270, G); Paris McGriff, sr. (5-8, 175, DB-RB); Morgan Hagel, jr. (5-7, 165, RB-LB); Chad Walde, jr. (5-10, 180, ILB).
Outlook: Chavez will surely earn his keep this season, with so many new starters and a grinding schedule which includes eight 5A playoff teams from 2010, plus Sandia and Volcano Vista. Cibola’s offensive line should be stout, which is a good place to start since key skill-position athletes, like Saxon, are unproven at this level. But Chavez is encouraged by his running backs, including Ross, Hagel and McGriff. If they can produce, Cibola might have a chance to make some noise. Defense may be the larger issue. Cibola had a senior-oriented unit last year, and even that group had difficulty stopping teams at times.

Coach: Kirk Potter (2nd season; 14-7)
Last year: 9-2; District 1-5A champions. Lost 21-13 to Mayfield in 5A quarterfinals.
Returning starters: 7 offense, 6 defense
Key players: Cole Gautsche, sr. (6-3, 215, QB); Reece White, sr. (6-1, 190, WR/OLB); Adam Grau, sr. (5-11, 170, RB); Jerome Gabryszewski, sr. (6-1, 180, WR/CB); T.J. Perkins, sr. (5-11, 180, FB); Matt Romero, sr. (6-0, 240, G); Josh Bustamante, sr. (6-2, 250, G); Mike Li Rosi, sr. (6-1, 180, LB); Steven Steele, jr. (5-10, 140, S); Denzel Glover, sr. (6-3, 320, DT/C); John Romero, sr. (5-10, 140, S); Romell Jordan, jr. (5-6, 130, RB); John Bastian, jr. (6-0, 160, WR/DB); Raymond Gatti, sr. (5-11, 175, DE); Jared Banteah, sr. (6-0, 200, OT); J.J. Gonzales, sr. (5-9, 220, DT); Blake Batchelor, sr. (6-1, 210, OT); Joseph Terry, sr. (6-2, 220, DE); Sean Worthington, jr. (5-11, 160, S).
Outlook: This is without question one of the best teams in New Mexico and a serious state championship contender. Most every rival coach in the Metro area believes this is the North’s best shot at a blue trophy this season. It’s hard to find many weaknesses with this bunch. If Gautsche’s passing improves, and the defense plays close to the level it did last year — and if Cleveland can improve on special teams, especially the kicking department — then there’s no reason to believe the Storm won’t make it until at least Thanksgiving weekend, which is the state semifinals. Grau and newcomer Jordan will make for a nice 1-2 punch in the backfield, and this team has got some excellent receivers in White and Gabryszewski. Glover is going to be a major force up front on both lines, and Terry has breakout potential at defensive end. Gautsche has verbally committed to New Mexico State. Defensively, White, Steele and Li Rosi lead the way.

Coach: Chris Howe (6th season; 20-33)
Last year: 3-7
Returning starters: 5 offense, 4 defense
Key players: D’Ante Stamps, sr. (6-1, 190, QB/OLB); Jacob Edwell, sr. (5-7, 165, RB); James Lawson, sr. (6-3, 225, OT); Robert Sanchez, sr. (6-3, 175, WR); Darnel Tailfeathers, sr. (6-2, 260, T); Aaron Mondloch, sr. (5-10, 165, OLB); Tyler Alston, sr. (6-2, 255, C/NG); Cameron Christiansen, sr. (5-9, 140, CB); Zach Cordova, sr. (6-1, 250, DT).
Outlook: Say this for Howe — he’s not lacking for confidence. “My first group,” he said, “is as good as any in 4A.” Depth, however, could be a problem for the Knights, who are looking to reclaim the District 5-4A title from St. Pius. Stamps is this team’s top player, but he’s brand new to the quarterback position, which is a question mark for Del Norte. But he and Edwell could both be 1,000-yard rushers in this offense. Howe says the Knights’ offensive line is as good as any he’s had at the school. The defense should be OK, but Del Norte is young and inexperienced at linebacker, which is a concern. “We’re gonna win district — that’s our goal,” Howe said boldly. “We feel last year was a speed bump.”

Coach: Charlie Dotson (5th season; 36-13)
Last year: 9-3; beat Cibola 28-7 in first round of 5A playoffs, lost 28-27 to Las Cruces in 5A quarterfinals.
Returning starters: 1 offense, 1 defense
Key players: Sam Gentry, sr. (6-5, 205, QB); Diego Gomez, sr. (5-9, 194, G/MLB); George Pacheco, jr. (5-6, 162, RB/ILB); John Russo, sr. (6-0, 163, WR/DB); Drew Crawford, sr. (6-1, 222, OT/DT); Russell Wenze, sr. (5-10, 215, ILB/C); Alex Gonzales, sr. (5-5, 219, DT); Brady Royce, sr. (5-7, 155, S/WR); Josh Lutz, sr. (5-11, 165, OLB).
Outlook: The Eagles are most certainly rebuilding this year. While Dotson is confident in his senior group, he doesn’t yet know how a large number of juniors — like Pacheco, who is targeted as one of this team’s real impact players — will step in at the varsity level. That’s going to be important, because they won’t have much time to get acclimated, not with Eldorado’s schedule. All the key skill-position athletes, and all of the line, are new with the exception of Gomez and Russo. In fact, Gomez, at guard, and Russo, in the secondary, are the only starters back from the 2010 team. Gentry is the grandson of legendary coach Bill Gentry. Dotson worries that his undersized and inexperienced team might be in for some tough times.

Coach: Derek Maestas (1st season)
Last year: 8-3; District 5-5A champions. Lost 35-14 to Clovis in first round of 5A playoffs.
Returning starters: 6 offense, 6 defense
Key players: David Brown, sr. (5-11, 180, QB/S); Julian Sanchez, sr. (5-9, 170, RB/LB); Cody Marquez, sr. (6-2, 200, OT/DE); Kevin Lopez, sr. (5-10, 260, C/DT); Juan Rodriguez, sr. (6-3, 215, OT/DE); Kenoe Santillanes, sr. (OG/DT); Rashad Ortiz, jr. (5-11, 180, WR/S); Robert Narvaiz, jr. (5-10, 230, DT/OT); Dominic Brown, jr. (6-2, 190, LB/TE).
Outlook: The Hornets move in a different direction, with Maestas taking over from Gary Sanchez along the sidelines, but Highland should again be a playoff team in 2011. This group has speed, talent and experience. David Brown, moving from receiver, is a major asset; he’s one of the best athletes in 5A. He’ll be less of a thrower than his predecessor, Dylan Chavez, but he’ll be a threat to run at any time. But Brown won’t be enough. Highland’s young talent need to fill in some holes and provide depth so as to not wear down the older players in the second half of the year. Highland has 22 seniors, and this team is very good along the offensive line, led by Marquez, Lopez, Rodriguez and Santillanes. Sanchez has led Highland in tackles the last three years.

Coach: Darrel Kindig (3rd season; 10-10)
Last year: 6-5; lost 33-22 to Socorro in first round of 3A playoffs.
Returning starters: 7 offense, 8 defense
Key players: Cameron Harjes, sr. (6-0, 195, QB/FB/MLB); Stephen Jurgensen, sr. (6-2, 195, RB/LB); Justin Collins, sr. (6-1, 185, DE); Luke Dye, soph. (6-0, 165, QB/CB); Mark Escajeda, sr. (5-8, 160, RB/CB); Aaron Gabaldon, sr. (5-8, 160, RB/CB); Andrew Garcia, jr. (5-8, 210, C); Aaron Huskey, sr. (6-1, 195, OT/DE); Paul Seaton, sr. (6-0, 185, WR/CB); Daniel Skartwed, sr. (6-1, 185, DE/TE); John Millar, jr. (6-2, 210, G/DT); Samuel White, jr. (6-0, 210, G/NG).
Outlook: The Huskies were a playoff team in their second season, and Kindig has high hopes for this group. Seaton is perhaps the best athlete on this team, and the Huskies hope he’ll be a touchdown machine. But this is a team shrouded in mystery. Kindig has changed his offense and defense but didn’t want to share what changes he had made. What is known: there are 26 players, a good number of them are going both ways, so Hope must remain healthy. Second, the Huskies had a great offseason, Kindig said. “I have skill I didn’t have the first two years,” he said. Top skill-position athletes include Harjes and Dye, plus Seaton. Hope thinks it is ready to challenge St. Michael’s — if not Albuquerque Academy — in District 5-3A.

Coach: Ed Lucero (1st season)
Last year: 10-2; beat Clovis 21-14 in 5A quarterfinals, lost 21-17 to Mayfield in 5A semifinals.
Returning starters: 1 offense, 2 defense
Key players: Michael Walsh, sr. (6-2, 195, QB); Erich Stabile, sr. (6-2, 170, WR); Tyler Wolf, sr. (5-8, 180, RB/DB); Steven Romero, sr. (6-3, 250, C); Jonny Cantwell, sr. (6-1, 210, G/DT); J.T. Boone, jr. (6-3, 220, OT/DT); Chris Loidolt, jr. (6-1, 205, RB/LB); Calvin Allen, jr. (6-5, 240, TE/DE); Justin Griego, sr. (6-8, 250, TE/DE); Cameron Padilla, sr. (5-8, 170, RB/DB); Shane Newsom, sr. (5-7, 165, S); Weston Mathis, sr. (6-0, 200, RB/LB); Jalin Castillo, sr. (5-10, 190, LB); Michael Rose, jr. (5-11, 165, RB/DB).
Outlook: A new Bears era begins under Lucero. Look for more balance on offense, first and foremost, which will look strange after years of doing nothing but running the football. La Cueva has a good group of quick, athletic running backs, and not everyone who’ll be prominent in this offense is even on the aforementioned list. The Bears should be less physical than in past seasons, so Lucero wants to get his top playmakers into open space and let them do their thing. Walsh is unproven at the varsity level as a thrower, but La Cueva will probably rely on a majority of high-percentage routes to minimize the risk. The defense has outstanding ends in Griego and Allen, but it’s the linebacking group, led by Loidolt and Castillo, that needs to play big. That was a position of strength last year for the Bears.

Coach: Jeremy Newton (2nd season; 9-3)
Last year: 9-3; beat Santa Teresa 42-0 in first round of 4A playoffs, lost 54-0 to Belen in 4A quarterfinals.
Returning starters: 8 offense, 5 defense
Key players: Devante Roy, sr. (5-7, 175, RB); Chris Wisneski, jr. (6-0, 165, QB); Gabe Almager, sr. (5-8, 235, OL); Lorenzo Sanchez, sr. (6-2, 230, OL); Darren Gallegos, soph. (5-11, 180, RB);
Chris Sanchez, soph. (6-1, 170, WR); Isaac Parra, jr. (5-10, 180, LB); Greg Wortman, jr. (6-1, 195, DE); Zach Wheeler, sr. (5-9, 210, DL); Michael Pohl, sr. (5-9, 175, LB).
Outlook: The Tigers impressed with nine wins in Newton’s first season; now they look to challenge Belen and Valencia in a very competitive District 6-4A. It starts with Roy (who rushed for just under 1,000 yards last year) and Wisneski on offense. With four offensive lineman returning, Roy — with his quickness and cuts, plus an extra 10-15 pounds — could be in for bigger things in 2011. Chris Sanchez is one of several fine, young receivers in this offense, and Los Lunas hopes to add some balance. The defense is athletic. Parra was the team’s second-leading tackler last season, and Wortman was second in sacks. Newton said this team still must identify some leaders. “That’s the glaring difference between this year and last year,” he said.

Coach: Aaron Ocampo (11th season; 74-38)
Last year: 11-2; District 2-5A champions. Beat Carlsbad 39-29 in 5A quarterfinals, beat Las Cruces 35-31 in 5A semifinals, lost 69-42 to Mayfield in 5A state championship game.
Returning starters: 4 offense, 7 defense
Key players: Quavshaun Branch, sr. (5-10, 180, QB); Anthony Johnson, sr. (5-10, 170, RB); Zach Muñoz, sr. (6-2, 265, OT); Phil Ramirez, sr. (6-2, 200, OT); Alex Albarran, sr. (5-11, 250, DT); Norris Griego, sr. (5-10, 230, DE); Justin Snow, sr. (5-11, 190, SS); Jon Pound, sr., (6-0, 190, OLB); Skyler Walker, jr. (6-1, 180, WR); Kris Lopez, sr. (5-9, 150, DB).
Outlook: The Monarchs’ system has always been very effective, so no reason to believe Manzano will have a serious dropoff after a run at the state title last year. Branch gives the Monarchs a great run threat at QB, and Johnson — coming off a 1,000-yard rushing season — is one of 5A’s best, and most physical, runners. Key for Manzano is to identify more playmakers at receiver to keep defenses honest, and Branch must establish himself as a reliable passer. Diversity is the thing that makes this offense hum along so well. The Monarchs’ defense is senior-dominated, and Ocampo vows a more aggressive, physical approach, especially against the run, where Manzano had trouble stopping some of the better teams last year. That will have to improve if the Monarchs want to author another deep playoff run in 2011.

Coach: Jeff Strohecker (6th season; 13-36)
Last year: 4-6; lost 44-0 to Gateway Christian in first round of 8-man playoffs.
Returning starters: 2 offense, 3 defense
Key players: Dennis Smatana, sr. (6-3, 240, RB/DE); Brandyn Monahan, jr. (6-0, 235, OL/DL); Andy Zampini, jr. (6-0, 190, QB/DB); Matt Feddersen, jr. (6-3, 165, WR/DB); David Levy, soph. (5-6, 120, RB/WR/DB).
Outlook: The Panthers lost size and experience off a team that qualified for the 8-man playoffs a year ago. It’s basically a young team, dominated by juniors — including Monahan, a three-year starter who can play a variety of positions on either side of the ball. But Menaul expects to utilize its team speed to overcome other areas. “This group, they need to be overachievers,” Strohecker said. “If they don’t, we might struggle some.”

Coach: Bob Allcorn (9th season; 40-45)
Last year: 6-5; lost 60-34 to Valencia in first round of 4A playoffs.
Returning starters: 7 offense, 6 defense
Key players: Frankie Rodriguez, sr. (5-10, 190, FB/LB); Chuck Herrera, sr. (5-11, 180, wing/S); Conner Russell, sr. (5-10, 185, G-LB); Chris Arias, sr. (5-9, 160, QB); James Lee, sr. (5-10, 175, RB/OLB); Caleb Encinias, jr. (5-10, 245, G/DT); Davilay Wells, jr. (6-1, 185, TE/CB); Cisco Romero, sr. (6-0, 190, TE/LB); Shaun Montoya, sr. (6-4, 205, OT/OLB); Michael Walker, sr. (5-8, 170, OT/DL); Adam Smith, jr. (5-11, 165, RB/CB).
Outlook: Moriarty needs to replace several key components, including the magnificently named running back Kane Romp. But the Pintos do have a solid group of runners, led by Rodriguez as a fullback in the Wing-T, and his performance will be crucial to the Pintos’ success. He and Herrera are two of this team’s big guns, and neither played much last year. Rodriguez broke his leg early in the season against West Mesa, and Herrera tore an ACL in the opener against Bernalillo. Allcorn is depending on those two to be healthy — and for his undersized team to stay out of the trainer’s room. Injuries have been a major issue of late for the Pintos, who have about half a dozen two-way starters this year. The defense is sparked by Rodriguez and Russell at linebacker, and Encinias up front.

Coach: Jim Danner (1st season)
Last year: 2-8
Key players: Angelo Almanzar, sr. (5-10, 186, QB/LB); Chris Hernandez, sr. (6-1, 203, FB/FS); Dustin Lamar, jr. (6-1, 170, QB/OLB); Jonathan Chavez, sr. (5-9, 137, RB/CB); Donovan Chavez, sr. (5-9, 154, RB/CB); Carlos Silva, sr. (5-10, 200, G); Adrian Aranda, jr. (6-2, 240, OT/DT); Diego Luna, sr. (5-9, 185, TE/DE); Santos Burciaga, sr. (5-10, 190, G/NT); Ryan Lucero, jr. (5-9, 185, FB/LB); Miguel Lopez, jr. (5-10, 140, SE/ DB); Cameron Sanchez, jr. (5-10, 185, SS).
Outlook: The Ravens have a little more depth than they’ve had recently, but this is still a young and undersized team. Rio Grande must stay healthy and effective, particularly along the offensive line, if the Ravens hope to make some inroads under new coach Danner. In this offense, led by fullback Hernandez, Rio Grande won’t necessarily need size to move the chains, but its veterans up front must produce. Defensively, the Ravens were awful last year — no other way to say it. Part of that was exhaustion from being on the field so long (Rio Grande gave up over 47 points a game). To that end, Rio Grande is going to try to two-platoon and limit snaps for kids who play both sides. Danner insists this team will be better in 2011 than it was in 2010.

Coach: David Howes (3rd season; 11-11)
Last year: 4-7; lost 27-3 to Mayfield in first round of 5A playoffs.
Returning starters: 7 offense, 3 defense
Key players: Robert Kamb, sr. (6-1, 245, G); Bobby Salgado, jr. (6-1, 210, OT); Josh Baggett, sr. (6-3, 3-5, C); Frankie Morlock, sr. (6-1, 185, RB/S); Conner Brown, sr. (6-1, 180, WR); Tristen Foley, soph. (5-9, 150, WR); Mike Calzada, sr. (5-7, 180, WR); Aris Payton, sr. (5-11, 190, DE); Dallon Brady, jr. (5-11, 185, S); Jason Fitzpatrick, sr. (6-2, 185, QB); Nathan Jojola, jr. (5-10, 170, WR); Austin Patterson, jr. (6-0, 170, WR); Alex Oluyitan, sr. (6-6, 280, OT); Ulises Astorga, jr. (5-9, 175, RB); Juan Cordova, sr. (5-11, 260, NT); Calvin Larson, sr. (5-10, 170, LB); Rudy Leyba, sr. (5-11, 170, LB); Ian Foley, sr. (5-10, 185, S); Jacob Barrett, sr. (5-10, 215, LB); Jaron Perez, sr. (5-9, 160, CB).
Outlook: Many coaches think Rio Rancho is going to be the most-improved 5A team in the metro area. While the Rams are probably not yet ready to threaten Cleveland for first place in 1-5A, they could have the inside track on second place. There are many starters back on offense, a talented transfer quarterback in Fitzpatrick and a more experienced — and physical — offensive line. Plus a veteran receiving corps. Still, the Rams want to avoid a repeat of 2009, when they had to score 40 points a night just to have a chance to win. Some new faces on defense — Rio Rancho graduated eight starters, including all its linebackers — will have to prove their worth early on against some tough opponents. For the most part, this is a senior-dominated team. Oluyitan is being recruited by UNM; he is much improved, too, since last season.

Coach: Kevin Barker (12th season; 67-54)
Last year: 3-7
Returning starters: 6 offense, 6 defense
Key players: Kevin Montgomery, sr. (5-10, 185, RB/S); Aaron Smith, jr. (5-9, 180, QB/S); Jack Lamm, sr. (6-3, 240, C/DL); Kyle Crater, sr. (5-6, 242, OG); Del Gallegos, sr. (6-0, 268, OT/DT); Daniel Robertson, sr. (5-9, 180, TE).
Outlook: Things may be on the rise at Sandia after a decidedly unpleasant 2010. The Matadors have size and experience up front, which should give a young group of skill players time to develop. Toward that end, Sandia expects to be more efficient on offense, which it will have to be to contend. Smith should also be much improved; he took over the offense in midseason last year under difficult circumstances. Fortunately, he has Montgomery and junior Daniel Cones to hand the ball off to. And Barker has said that he might use Craig Coffman a bit at QB to add some diversity to the passing game. If there is an issue, it’s that most of the Matadors’ skill-position athletes are underclassmen. Sandia’s freshman team went 6-1 last season and Barker is particularly excited about his sophomore class. The Matadors face a tough road in the difficult District 2-5A, but contending for a playoff berth seems like a realistic goal.

Coach: San Juan Mendoza (17th season; 117-57)
Last year: 7-5; District 5-4A champions. Beat Roswell 42-7 in 4A first round; lost 55-21 to Aztec in 4A quarterfinals.
Returning starters: 6 offense, 5 defense
Key players: John Garcia, sr. (5-10, 180, RB-CB); Trey Casaus, sr. (6-1, 197, QB); Quintin Rizek, sr. (6-1, 180, WR-OLB); Kevin Caress, sr. (5-10, 215, G); Noah Griego, jr. (6-2, 263, OT); Jacob Jordan, sr. (5-9, 245, C); Daniel Sanchez, jr. (6-1, 170, S); Sean Fattor, sr. (5-8, 155, CB); T.J. Sanchez, jr. (5-10, 195, ILB); Charlie Berger, sr. (5-11, 160, WR); Ryan Rosenthal, jr. (6-1, 156, WR); Nic Stafford, jr. (6-2, 184, WR); JoJo Saiz, jr. (5-9, 175, ILB).
Outlook: Everything starts with Casaus, a four-year starter who threw for about 1,400 yards last year and who should be one of the state’s best QBs. “He’s a very impressive kid,” Mendoza said. “I expect an outstanding season from him.” The Sartans have an impressive offense elsewhere, with vets along the line, a huge group of receivers and a potential gem in Garcia at RB. Rizek has had over 100 tackles in each of the last two seasons for the Sartans. St. Pius is probably the early favorite in its district, but the Sartans have to prove they can take on the state’s top group in 4A, including Aztec which has a regular-season date with the Sartans in Albuquerque this year.

Coach: Kelley Lee (3rd season; 14-9)
Last year: 9-3; beat Moriarty 60-34 in first round of 4A playoffs, lost 48-14 to Goddard in 4A quarterfinals.
Returning starters: 7 offense, 6 defense
Key players: Noah Brown, sr. (6-1, 220, RB/DE); Isaac Gonzalez, sr. (6-2, 180, LB/RB); Robert Carrasco, sr. (6-0, 180, FS/RB/WR); Carlos Griego, sr. (5-9, 185, RB/SS); Jude Pepke, sr. (5-10, 185, QB/LB); Clayton Jones, sr. (6-0, 250, OL/DL); T.J. Martinez, sr. (6-0, 220, OT/DE); Andrew Yamamoto, jr. (6-0, 220, DL); Alex Romero, sr. (6-0, 220, OL); Alonzo Romero, sr. (6-0, 205, OL).
Outlook: Has the power in District 6-4A shifted from Belen to Valencia? It’s possible. The Jaguars were a state quarterfinal team a year ago, and clearly they’ve closed the gap on the Eagles, who’ve dominated 6-4A the last three years. Brown is an all-state defensive end, He also one of the critical components in the triple option along with Carrasco, Griego and especially Pepke, who will be in his first varsity season at that position. Valencia has half a dozen three-year starters who will play on both sides of the ball, and four starters return along the offensive line. “We definitely feel like this is the best ballclub we’ve had,” Lee said, adding that the offense has 11 seniors, and that Valencia is as good or better at every position than it was a year ago.

Coach: Vince Collins (19th season; 87-100)
Last year: 3-7
Returning starters: 2 offense, 1 defense
Key players: Damian Rodarte, sr. (5-10, 185, C); Isaac Stevens, jr. (5-9, 180, LB); Esteban Loera, jr. (5-7, 165, slot-RB); Jacob Sanchez, sr. (5-7, 160, WR-DB); Aaron Molina, soph. (6-2, 150, WR); Bo Coleman, soph. (6-1, 150, QB); Elijah Schold, soph. (6-1, 215, OL); Isiah Saiz, soph. (6-1, 180, TE-ILB); Seth Mello, soph. (6-1, 175, C-DE); Wesley Bradshaw, soph. (6-0, 180, LB).
Outlook: Valley is going to be young at a lot of positions, on both sides of the ball, so the Vikings are a bit of question mark. Bottom line: Valley’s youth — including a group of players who won five YAFL Super Bowls and went undefeated as freshmen — better grow up in a hurry if the Vikes hope to make a playoff run this year. If this talent pans out as expected, Valley could get a top-two spot in District 5-5A. It’s easy to say this team will be better in 2012 and 2013, but a lot of people will be watching Valley this year to see how good this young talent is. Collins has never carried this many sophomores before, but he considers it one of Valley’s best classes ever. But for the first time, they have to play up in age group, and that could be a huge factor. Two other issues: a “super young” offensive line playing in front of QB Coleman and an untested defense.

Coach: Chad Wallin (4th season; 17-15)
Last year: 3-7
Returning starters: 4 offense, 5 defense
Key players: Andre Vigil, jr., (5-10, 180, RB); Christian Benedicto, jr. (6-0, 300, G); Nick Throgmorton, sr. (5-11, 240, OT); Austin Kennedy, sr. (6-0, 230, OT); Mackay Schaap, sr. (6-1, 215, LB); Tim Hatfield, sr. (6-5, 235, DE); Joe Ortega, jr. (6-0, 150, FS); Josh C’De Baca, sr. (6-0, 200, LB); Isaiah Jantz, sr. (6-2, 225, LB/DE); Reid Hendricks, jr. (6-2, 180, QB); Gabe Griego, sr. (5-7, 150, QB); Dorsett Valdez, jr. (5-10, 165, WR); Isaiah Perry, jr. (5-10, 220, LB/DL); Josh Lubold, jr. (6-0, 220, LB).
Outlook: The Hawks got shoved around a bit last year; that should be less of an issue after Wallin said Volcano Vista got in the weight room and hit it hard in the offseason. There are some very good offensive weapons on this team — especially Vigil, plus tailback Thomas Cantrell and newcomer Valdez. Who will be under center is still a mystery, however, and the Hawks have to replace several important players along the line. The defense was prone to giving up too many big plays last season, but that unit should be much improved as Volcano Vista has some big, strong linebackers. Assuming Cleveland takes control of District 1-5A, can the Hawks challenge Rio Rancho and Cibola for second place? To do that, they must become more consistent and more assertive. Hatfield is being recruited by UNM; Schaap was last season’s leading tackler.

Coach: Felix Jamero (1st season; interim)
Last year: 7-4; lost 35-19 to Carlsbad in first round of 5A playoffs.
Returning starters: 4 offense, 2 defense
Key players: Isaac Caraveo, sr. (5-7, 250, C-DT); Daniel Salazar, sr. (5-5, 150, WR); Chris Kline, sr. (5-7, 150, WR); Robert Young, sr. (5-9, 190, FB-LB); Eduardo Quiñonez, sr. (5-9, 230, DE); Travis Peterson, jr. (5-7, 175, LB); Dominic Davis, jr. (5-7, 140, QB); Romolo Salazar, jr. (5-7, 140, WR); Austin Fedele, jr. (5-6, 230, G); Pedro Trujillo, jr. (5-8, 130, WR); Chris Martinez, jr. (5-8, 200, OT); Khamaree McCray, soph. (5-7, 140, CB); Marcus Bush, jr. (5-8, 150, DB); Danny Nguyen, jr. (5-5, 150, LB).
Outlook: West Mesa is advertising itself as one of the quickest teams in 5A, and the Mustangs had better be, because it’s a small group that won’t win many physical matchups. Davis is under the spotlight at QB, and he’s billed as a running threat. But in Daniel Salazar and Kline, both returning starters, West Mesa potentially has two of the best out wide, although West Mesa won’t present near the vertical threat it did last year. Young and DeShun Brown could provide a spark on the ground for the Mustangs. The defense, which is also relatively small, must improve if the Mustangs hope to get back to the playoffs. Jamero wasn’t give much time to prepare for this season as he took over only a couple of months ago. And the Mustangs have a lot to live up to after that outstanding 2010 season. “Everyone has to reload,” Jamero said. “Who is going to reload faster? I say we will still have a winning (record) and we can contend for a playoff berth.” The only other metro-area 5A school that is replacing both a quarterback and head coach is Highland.