Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
Editor’s note: Today, Journal North begins previews of area high school football programs. This week, Santa Fe High, Los Alamos High and Española Valley High.
SANTA FE HS: Building depth and credibility
Back when things were normal, Santa Fe’s progression on the football field was going according to plan for coach Andrew Martinez.
In his third season, the team was one win away from a district championship.
Gone are the days when freshmen manned starting positions simply because there was no one else to play.
Gone, too, are the days when the Demons would fail the eye test when it came to getting off the bus. These guys have some beef.
And now, despite taking some lumps during the pandemic, Santa Fe is ready to continue the progression plan, perhaps even taking that step into the playoffs, something the Demons haven’t done since 2013.
“It’s just good to be out there in a normal environment,” Martinez said. “It’s going well. Kids are working hard.”
And with a roster of nearly 70 and growing, Santa Fe is building depth and credibility in the program, even if things aren’t where Martinez would like them.
“We’ve got good numbers, but they’re not as good as I want them,” he said. “The pandemic took a toll on a lot of kids. We lost kids to eligibility. Some kids just decided to do other things. We picked up some freshmen and, as far as our upperclassmen are concerned, they’re pretty solid.”
Senior tailback/middle linebacker Martell Mora (5 feet, 10 inches, 180 pounds) leaped into prominence as a sophomore, compiling 851 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground, and another 272 yards and three scores through the air.
“He’s a pretty dynamic athlete,” Martinez said. “He’s going to be our horse. He can run, he can catch, he’s good in the open field.”
Mora’s ability to make plays all over the field should be a benefit to four-year starting quarterback Luke Jaramillo (5-9, 175), who threw for almost 900 yards, with nine TDs, and ran for 285 more and four more scores.
“It definitely helps with the offense,” Martinez said of Jaramillo’s experience. “He is definitely a good leader. He helps the younger guys along. He does everything we ask of him at that position.”
As for size, senior offensive and defensive linemen Ben White (6-3, 270) and Santiago Quintana (6-3, 285), as well as tight end Patrick Gardner (6-2, 230) will be opening big holes for Mora.
“It’s been a minute since we’ve had that kind of size,” Martinez said. “And they’ve got the maturity of having been thrown into the battles, into the fire, as freshmen.”
And now it is go time on the field, he said.
“We have a lot of high expectations for each other and for the program,” the coach said. “Now, it’s a matter of going out on the field and taking care of business. We’ve shown glimpses. Our next progression is, OK, we’ve got some talent, we can play. When we get up on some teams, we have to have that mental toughness, stay focused and finish out a game. That remains to be seen until you get pads on and under the lights.”
LOS ALAMOS HS: Hilltoppers focus on rebounding
Rugged is about the kindest way to describe the spring season for Los Alamos football.
The senior class all but disappeared, leaving just a handful of upperclassmen to guide an exceptionally young squad through uncharted waters. And, not surprisingly, it didn’t work out too well as the Hilltoppers were outscored 137-7 in their three games.
On the plus side, however, those players who were taking their lumps in the spring gained significant experience and have come back with a log-sized chip on their collective shoulders.
“That junior class that we had, they didn’t enjoy it very much,” Los Alamos coach Garett Williams said of the abbreviated spring session. “This summer, they have been out working very hard. I hope they’ve put a little bit of fire in them. It seems that they have because they’ve been working very hard.”
Rebounding has become a focus for the Hilltoppers, Williams said.
“It’s one of the things we’ve talked a lot about this spring,” he said. “We struggled this spring due to numbers and things we couldn’t control. Those kids weren’t satisfied with that. They were pretty upset with the way things turned out in the spring, and we’ve talked all spring and all summer about working up to their expectations and doubling down on our efforts.”
Before the season even started, presumed starting quarterback Jake Green (5 feet, 10 inches, 175), broke a leg and was lost for the season. He’s back now battling with junior Luke Gonzales (5-10, 170), who took the helm in the spring.
State wrestling champ junior Teke Nieto (6-1, 215) will be taking over as a bruising fullback to go along with his duties as a tackle-anything, all-district middle linebacker.
“He’s going to be a tough kid,” Williams said. “He’s big and powerful. A great runner. Probably one of the most competitive kids we have.”
The coach also is expecting big things from senior wide receivers/defensive backs Caden Thornton (5-10, 165) and Jeremiah Hartzol (5-9, 170).
And when it comes to big, the Hilltoppers’ line features seniors Abran Chacon (5-11, 240), and basketball players Roland Esch (6-3, 240) and Mark Cleland (6-8, 245).
The hoopsters are “some good tackles,” Williams said. “They’re super-athletic kids. They have great feet and can move.”
The coach has been after Cleland for a while and finally convinced him in the spring to come out for the team.
“He’s got the size,” Williams said. “He never played until his junior year, but we finally talked the kid into coming out. Once he has it all figured out, he has the ability to be pretty good. He’s got size like most kids don’t.”
And they all look up to the shortest of the bunch, Chacon.
“He’s by far the leader up front,” Williams said. “He’s a physical kid. One of the strongest kids in the program. He does a great job for us.”
The Hilltoppers still have significant work to do to put last year behind them, but Williams is confident his squad can do just that.
“Our goal is to get our kids back to where they need to be, and be proud of the work that we’re doing and what we put out on the field,” he said.
ESPAÑOLA VALLEY HS: ‘Rebuilding from the basement up’
Few coaches have faced as difficult a start to a career as Española Valley football coach Santiago Archuleta.
When he took over last summer, he was the Sundevils’ fourth coach in as many years. Then, he was faced with a program that had won just eight games in the prior five years and was a traditional also-ran. And the athletic director who hired him left this summer after one year.
“It was rock bottom, we’re rebuilding from the basement up,” he said.
Getting players to believe things can turn around is challenge No. 1 and Archuleta has the exuberance to help make that happen.
“I think they’re improving every day,” he said. “Improving is still our number one thing. During the pandemic, “all the players seemed to scatter. Getting them back and getting them excited about coming back after you have a program that’s been performing the way it has in the past does scare off a lot of players.”
But a group of seniors from an eighth-grade squad that went undefeated are returning to the program.
“We picked up five or six more there,” Archuleta said. “We’re encouraging the athletes to tell their friends to come out.”
In the spring season, the Sundevils were outscored 160-6, but Archuleta wasn’t worried about the results so much as keeping his inexperienced players on the field.
“We told them don’t worry about wins and losses during a pandemic,” he said. They were mostly freshmen, so we tried to take it as a learning experience. Their first game, they were terrified. But, after the first quarter, the shock kind of wore off.”
The goal was to build to this summer, Archuleta said.
“I introduced a real basic package for the offense. We had about 10 plays,” he said. “Let’s just spend this year working on these 10 plays, then we can come back and already have those down.”
Archuleta is looking to a sophomore quarterback to be the big-play guy that others will rally around.
“One of my upcoming stars is Adrian Deleon (5 feet, 10 inches, 175),” he said. “The second he walked on the field, I knew that was a quarterback in the making. He was a little afraid to do it at first, but I kept pushing him. He’s an all-round athlete.”
Senior wide receiver Ollie Fell (6-4, 190), who runs a 4.6-second 40-yard dash, is the type of athlete who could really boost the Española program in a hurry as he comes from the vaunted basketball program that is loaded with standout athletes.
“If he does engage fully in this program, he can be a superstar,” Archuleta said. “His speed and his height, I can’t see anyone covering him.”
The coach has also tapped the wrestling program to be defenders and is actively trying to get all of the groups to mesh, while providing pride in the program.
“We’re trying to get them to take ownership,” Archuleta said. “When you have a program that’s been kind of in the dumps, you have to change their way of thinking and get them excited about the program overall.”