There are individual opinions. Not a collective consensus.
The best high school football team in Class 5A? It depends on who’s holding the mic.
“Farmington is gonna win state,” Highland coach Philip Lovato said.
“If I was ranking someone first,” said Roswell High coach Jeff Lynn, “it’s Goddard.”
“I think Los Lunas probably is the team to beat,” Goddard coach Chris White said.
The Coyotes, state champions from 2018 and 2019, are, as usual, trending. So is Mayfield, in its first full season in 5A, and Artesia, where Jeremy Maupin has returned home to coach his alma mater.
As the 2021 fall season gears up to begin next week, it’s clear that no one is clear on a clear-cut favorite.
Starting with Roswell, Lynn said this is the youngest team he’s had with the Coyotes, with only 13 seniors.
“There may be some growing pains with us,” he said.
Across town, Goddard should absolutely be a factor throughout, although the Rockets’ school on Friday was shut down because of a COVID outbreak. Thus, Goddard’s home opener next week against Rio Rancho has been canceled.
Whenever their season does begin, the Rockets should be supremely quick. The reigning 100-meter state champion, Javyn Morales, should induce headaches for defenses. And Goddard has experience at quarterback and the offensive line.
“I think we have the team to make a run down the stretch,” White said.
Maupin left Los Lunas earlier this year after several wildly successful seasons and takes over Artesia’s historic program.
Lefty Nathan Taylor, after leaving New Mexico to play baseball in Texas in the spring, is back to play football for the Bulldogs in the fall and will quarterback the always-entertaining Artesia offense.
As for Los Lunas, former Belen head coach Greg Henington is now coaching the Tigers, who are at or near the top of the 5A food chain. Los Lunas will surely benefit from one of 5A’s most electric quarterbacks, junior Paul Cieremans.
“We have the talent, and the depth at the skill positions is the best I’ve ever been around in my life,” Henington said. “The big adjustment is going to more of a run-first mentality.”
Mayfield faces one of its most grueling schedules, coach Mike Bradley said. He hopes his talented running back tandem of Calvin Cox and Jose Montoya, both speed kids, can do consistent work behind a veteran offensive line.
From the Four Corners region, Farmington appears to be the team most ready to reach the season’s final weekends. The Scorpions gained one of the offseason’s high-profile transfers in former Grants quarterback Brandon Furbee.
Inside the metro area, Highland and Valley face a shortage of athletes. This is probably more serious for the Hornets (struggling with fewer than 20). Highland does, however, have a big freshman class. Valley started nine ninth-graders in the spring, but has only 30 players out for football.
“We could have a decent team, we really could,” Vikings coach Judge Chavez said.
Del Norte, which has 12 starters back, must replace its two most dynamic offensive weapons, both of whom graduated. Running back Cruz Garcia and QB Sean Solomon will step into those roles.
Belen has a new coach in Andrew McCraw, who was coaching most recently at Eastern New Mexico.
CLASS 4A: Teams on the long-term radar include 2019 state champion Portales, plus Lovington, Bloomfield, St. Pius and Bernalillo, among others.
“The intriguing team to me, seeing them on film, is Bernalillo,” Lovington coach Anthony Gonzales said.
Spartans coach John Cobos won’t argue, although the program did graduate several impact players.
“Honestly, I’m really excited,” Cobos said. “For years and years and years, everyone cast us as being young, but our sophomore and junior classes are spectacular. I’m looking forward to watching them grow in front of our eyes.”
Players to watch at Bernalillo include junior (and fourth-year starter) Michael Ash, who anchors the offensive line; receiver/safety Tristen Ludi-Herrera, the team’s leading ball catcher from the spring; and tight end/middle linebacker Kavin Chavez.
Lovington, probably the best 4A group from the abbreviated spring season, has a slew of outstanding receivers, led by Tayten Hilliard, Isaac Hinson and Adam Aguilera, who are all seniors. The Wildcats return a dozen starters.
“Their skill guys are gonna be amazing,” St. Pius coach Dave Montoya said of Lovington.
Portales coach Jaime Ramirez said his Rams (4-1 in the spring with a loss to Lovington) are a blend of experience and youth, although most of Portales’ linemen on both sides of the ball are back. The Rams, he added, will be young at most of the skill positions.
Bloomfield, the state runner-up from 2019, has changed head coaches after Bob Allcorn retired. Mike Kovacs, the Bobcats’ offensive coordinator, was promoted and Bloomfield returns a solid group. Playoff regular Taos is very young, coach Art Abreu said. Moriarty, like Goddard, had to cancel its season opener (West Las Vegas) due to COVID. Grants is another of those teams that changed coaches, with Brandon Hernandez returning to his alma mater after being an assistant coach at West Mesa. Losing Furbee to Farmington is something the Pirates will have to overcome in District 5/6-4A.
St. Pius and Bernalillo are in that district. Cobos believes his team is the favorite after beating the Sartans and Pirates during a 4-0 spring campaign.
St. Pius senior running back Marco Ybarra is poised for a huge fall, and, Montoya said, “how he goes is also how we’ll go.” Ybarra is the strongest pound-for-pound Sartan, having won several of the team’s weightlifting competitions this summer.
“It’s just finding ways for him to get the ball and have him be involved as much as he can in the run and pass game,” Montoya added. With 20 seniors, St. Pius projects as a likely contender.
Albuquerque Academy hopes it will figure into that district’s race, as well.
A.J. Rivera, a junior, has been playing QB for the Chargers since his freshman season, and has all-state targets in receiver Kellan Gehres and tight end Tyler Wilson. It’s a big, physical and experienced team, Academy coach Shaun Gehres said. Two other all-staters key the defense: the Whitaker brothers, Tanner, a senior, and Brody, a huge sophomore.
CLASS 3A: Hope Christian is the most recent state champion, from 2019, and the Huskies appear primed to mount a serious defense this fall insomuch as Hope only graduated two starters from last spring’s roster.
Among the top returners are senior quarterback James Jenkins and junior Brent Miller, an all-stater at receiver and linebacker from last spring who is moving to safety and who also plays running back.
“We have high expectations,” said Huskies coach Fernando Salinas, whose team has a high-profile opener next Saturday at Milne Stadium against 4A power Portales. Hope was 4-1 in the spring, losing only to district rival New Mexico Military Institute.
St. Michael’s is another team very much in the conversation, especially due to stellar 6-foot-3 senior quarterback Lucas Coriz. Robertson, Raton, Dexter, Socorro, Hatch Valley and possibly also Cobre are other teams that could make noise into November.
“I would say it’s fairly wide open,” said Socorro coach Damien Ocampo, whose team was the 2019 runner-up to Hope. The Warriors were a dominant 5-0 in the spring 2021 season.
CLASS 2A/8-MAN/6-MAN: Eunice is chasing a fourth consecutive state championship, and the Cardinals have been in the title game for five straight years in which there was a postseason (2015-19). Eunice was 5-0 in the spring. Jal has the state’s most sought-after senior recruit, Boise State lineman commitment Roger Carreon.
Melrose (8-Man) and Springer/Maxwell (6-Man) are the most recent state champions in those divisions.
From the metro area, Menaul (1-3 in the spring) will be young, with no seniors, at least as of Friday. When school begins next week, that may change. Among the returnees, junior defensive end/wide receiver Garrett Lerch is arguably the most important player back. The Panthers are off in Week 1, then open at home in Week 2 against Tatum.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: CLASSES 2A-5A
- Roger Carreon, sr., OT, Jal (2A): The 6-foot-5 tackle in June committed to Boise State. New Mexico’s most recruited player for this fall season.
- Brandon Furbee, sr., QB, Farmington (5A): Furbee (6-4, 225) is a pro-style passer who played last season at Grants before transferring.
- Marco Ybarra, sr., RB, St. Pius (4A): He is a powerful 190 pounds in a 5-9 frame, and his speed and strength ought to produce big numbers this season.
- Javyn Morales, jr., RB, Goddard (5A): Look regularly for big plays out of last spring’s 100-meter state champion. And the Rockets know how to run the football.
- Paul Cieremans, jr., QB, Los Lunas (5A): The dynamic Cieremans (5-11, 190) is a great improviser on the ground and an improved passer.
- James Jenkins, sr., QB, Hope Christian (3A): The Huskies’ attempt to win a second straight 3A title will hinge quite a bit on Jenkins’ play-making ability.
- Tayten Hilliard, sr., WR/S, Lovington (4A): A four-year letterman and someone who could prove to be invaluable to the Wildcats’ championship hopes.
- Calvin Cox/Jose Montoya, srs., RBs, Mayfield (5A): The Trojans should feature one of the most dangerous, and quick, 1-2 backfield tandems in 5A.
- Lucas Coriz, sr., QB, St. Michael’s (3A): A kid (6-3, 210) that definitely is in the conversation for the best quarterback who doesn’t play in 6A. A gifted athlete.
- A.J. Rivera, jr., QB, Albuquerque Academy (4A): The 6-2, 190-pound, third-year QB for the Chargers hopes to lead Academy into a rare playoff hunt.