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Prep Football: Talented Los Lunas Gets Early Test

Opener with Aztec will test team that has great aspirations

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Journal today continues its countdown of the top 10 prep football teams in the Albuquerque metro area. Coming Saturday: No. 6.By Jason W. BrooksValencia County News-Bulletin

LOS LUNAS – It’s tough to say a season opener is the biggest game of the year for any football team, least of all one that will face two tough 5A opponents, a solid district slate and has aspirations to advance deep into the Class 4A playoffs.

But make no mistake, Los Lunas’ date at defending 4A champion Aztec one week from today is huge in terms of determining whether the Tigers might be ready go to the next level – Aztec’s level.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Journal today continues its countdown of the top 10 prep football teams in the Albuquerque metro area. Coming Saturday: No. 6.

Coming off consecutive 9-3 records in 2010 and 2011 in Jeremy Newton’s first two seasons as coach, the Tigers – the Journal’s preseason pick at No. 7 among metro-area schools – are a veteran bunch with high expectations.

“I don’t want us to go through this season with any regrets,” Newton said. “I don’t want us to be saying ‘what if.’ I don’t want us to beat ourselves; I don’t want us to have self-inflicted wounds.”

After traveling to Aztec, the Tigers still will face tough nondistrict games against the likes of St. Pius, Alamogordo and Sandia. Later on, District 6-4A rivals Belen, Valencia and Miyamura won’t cut them any slack.

The Tigers lost 40-27 at home to Aztec last year and didn’t lose again until the regular-season finale at Valencia. As 6-4A runners-up, they earned the No. 5 seed in the playoffs, blew out their first-round opponent for the second straight year but lost 35-13 at Artesia in the quarterfinals.

Aside from new faces on the offensive line, there will be experience nearly everywhere for the Tigers. It starts with senior Chris Wisneski, the quarterback who missed two key district games with a knee injury last season. He is among the key ingredients that likely make Los Lunas the 6-4A favorite in 2012.

“We’re really focusing on doing the little things right,” Wisneski said. “That means on the field, in the classroom and in the community. Those little things can be the difference between a 10-yard gain and a 50-yard gain, and that falls on the seniors to make sure everyone is giving their all on every play.”

Wisneski anchors an offense with lots of weapons, including speedy tailback Jalen Chavez, durable All-State second-team fullback Darron Gallegos, and receivers Chris Sanchez, Jacob Holland and Eddie Canizo.

Ruger Rodriguez started twice at quarterback after Wisneski’s 2011 injury and will back him up again. He will also play receiver.

The Tigers will have several two-way players, many of whom play skill positions on offense.

“We’re going to try and limit their reps on defense and rotate guys as much as we can on offense,” Newton said.

Tight ends Greg Wortman, Preston Schollander and Isaac Parra represent most of the experience up front. Left tackle Chris Romero, left guard Elliott Kittrell, center Dakota Wood, right guard Adam Coughlin and right tackle Brian Pando must be impressive in their debut season as starters.

Parra, an All-State second-team linebacker as a junior, anchors a speedy Tiger defense, with Canizo and Tyler Mariano as the other linebackers. Sanchez, Chavez, Randy Moore, Sasha Gallegos and Mikey Martinez will see time in the secondary.

Schollander and Wortman will be counted on for leadership at the defensive end spots, with Tyler Hansen and Charles Truesdell on the interior.

Newton said even with the high expectations, it’s important for the Tigers to not be intimidated and not think outside the frame of each game plan.

“There’s no reason to put undue pressure on ourselves,” Newton said. “We only have to be concerned with our next opponent and treat it like it’s the most important game.”

Newton said leadership will play a major factor in what milestones the Tigers can attain, such as claiming their first district title since 1992.

“We’ve got to continue to grow,” he said. “A lot depends on whether our seniors can lead the way.”
— This article appeared on page D5 of the Albuquerque Journal