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Rio Grande hungry to end its losing ways

Ravens are seeking to add more balance to their offensive attack

August is a tough time to be a high school football player.

Two-a-days in the blistering heat can test any young man’s desire.

But August is also a great time to be a high school football player.

Because, no matter how rough 2012 was – or the past decade, for that matter – there is renewed hope.

Such is the case at Rio Grande under third-year coach Jim Danner.

“We’ve been helping out the younger players, showing our routines, what we do as a defense and on offense,” said senior free safety Paul Chavez. “Everything has been much better since coach (Danner) has been here. We have better expectations, he works us harder.”

The Ravens hope that hard work finally leads to something that has eluded Rio for a long, long time:

A winning season.

Rio Grande hasn’t had one since 2006.

Last year’s 2-8 record was more of the same at Rio, and it was 1-4 in District 5-5A, beating only winless Albuquerque High.

The constant losing has taken a toll.

Rio Grande senior RB Patrick Lucero is expected to carry much of the load for the team’s running game. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis-Journal)

Rio Grande senior RB Patrick Lucero is expected to carry much of the load for the team’s running game. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis-Journal)

“The only thing the team is struggling with is confidence right now,” senior wide receiver Matias Sainz said. “But teamwork and dedication can push us over the hump.

“We all get along pretty well. We come out here to have fun, and coach is pointing us in the right direction.”

The Ravens got off to a decent start last season, beating Valencia 18-15 in their second game of the season after a 13-12 loss to Del Norte.

But in the third game, a 38-6 loss to La Cueva, Chavez – one of the team’s top players – broke a leg and was lost for the season. Whether coincidence or not, the year soon spun out of control.

Beginning with that loss to the Bears, the Ravens were outscored 233-12 in a five-game stretch. In all, they lost seven in a row, but ended the season with a 43-14 shellacking of AHS. The Ravens return six starters on both offense and defense from that team.

“We need to get better fundamentally, but we’ve got really good kids,” Danner said. “We have to keep working to have a chance to be successful this fall. The kids worked really hard this summer.

“We just have to find ways that give us a chance to win, and that’s up to the coaches to put the kids in the right position. We don’t have a lot of great football players, but we have great kids who want to play football and who try extremely hard.”

Danner says he still hasn’t decided on a starting quarterback, but whoever it is will lead a different-looking offense from 2012.

The Ravens ran the ball almost exclusively last season, despite some huge deficits. Danner said Rio will run a spread offense in hopes of opening it up.

“We’ll definitely throw a lot more than we did last year,” said Danner, a former head coach at Belen for 12 years and an assistant at La Cueva and Cibola. “I don’t know if we threw 10 passes the whole year. Last year, we didn’t have the ability to open it up because we had a sophomore quarterback. We didn’t want to put him in those situations. But we spent the spring and summer working on it, and we got a lot better. But we’re still nowhere near where we need to be.”

The two guys battling at QB are both juniors: Pablo Duarte and Jacob Salazar.

Whoever wins the job will rely on the legs of senior running back Patrick Lucero, who says the Ravens will surprise some folks – and hopefully quiet them along the way.

“I think we can win district, go 5-5 or 6-4 and go to state,” Lucero said. “I think that is pretty realistic. Everyone always puts us down, but we try not to pay attention to it. We just try to be what we can be. And what people say only gives us more motivation. We want to have a winning season, and put it right back in their face.”