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Rebuilding from within: New Sundevils football coach is a ‘character builder’

Santiago Archuleta, the new head football coach at Española Valley High School, leads a practice with his players on Feb. 2. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

Like most coaches, new Española Valley High School football top dog Santiago Archuleta has big goals for his team.

But they’re not exactly what most people would expect.

“I wholeheartedly believe that we can graduate every senior on the honor roll and have them going to college,” he said. “Students give four years to the program. They injure themselves and what’s the program been giving to them? The answer was always nothing. That can’t be any more. They have to get something out of this program.”

Archuleta knows it is possible because he did it himself.

A former Sundevils quarterback who graduated from the school in 1994, Archuleta first went into the U.S. Navy, eventually working for the National Security Agency.

“I was a spy,” he said with a little laugh. “I tell the kids to watch what they say on the telephone. They don’t think people are listening, but they are. I did it.”

He attended Northern New Mexico College and finished his degree at Santa Fe College before it closed.

Now, he teaches freshman history at Española Valley and has spent six years as an assistant coach with the Sundevils.

So he knows exactly what he is getting into when it comes to the program.

Since reaching the state tournament for just the second time in program history in 2015, the Sundevils have gone 8-32. Archuleta becomes the third head coach in the past five years.

Archuleta was the quarterbacks coach on the 2015 squad, but he realizes that there is quite a task ahead to get back to that level.

“Ever since, it’s been turmoil, politics, coaches coming and going,” he said. “It’s going to be a complete rebuild. Being a teacher in the district, I am aware of what was going on. It was a little scary. But you have to do your best and put your best foot forward, but keep watching over shoulder.”

However, things have changed in Española as an administration that muddled through sports with no clear direction has been replaced. Leading the charge to a new day, new athletic director Ira Harge Jr. said that bringing in Archuleta was a fairly easy choice among the handful of applicants.

“Santiago is very athlete-oriented,” Harge said. “He’s a character builder and we needed somebody like that to come in here. He wants all good students and we wanted that focus. Students first. And Santiago is very much focused on that. He’s going to make sure they take care of grades first.”

To do so, once school returns to normal, Archuleta said he plans to take an approach similar to college in that he and his assistant coaches will meet with the players every morning regarding their grades and try to keep players in the same core classes in the first half of the day so they can study together. The players will be accountable for their grades and help will be found to keep them progressing if they are falling behind.

Harge wanted somebody who knew the program, knew Española and could relate to the students.

“We were looking for somebody that could build a program,” he said. “One of the reasons we hired a teacher is we wanted somebody in the hallways, we wanted somebody that would come in and understand it’s going to be rebuilding, and he will have to bring in kids. He’s doing a pretty good job.”

Of course, that has been difficult in this out-of-school year, but numbers were pretty good during the few times the Sundevils were able to practice.

Given the success of the basketball program, it is obvious that there are plenty of athletic students in Española; it is just getting them to buy in to the football program that will be the key, Archuleta said.

“Over the years, there’s so much talent that’s not being developed,” he said. “So many kids missing out on the opportunity to be able to go to the next level academically or athletically. So our program will be focusing on that. That’s the foundation. Winning will come after that. Our motto is creating superior athletes, more dependable athletes and smarter athletes.”