If the state had a “Breaking Bad” football program last year, it might have been the Eagles, a thrill-a-minute attraction riding in a burnt orange Winnebago that seemed to thrive by living on the edge of mayhem.
They were one play from being knocked from playoff contention at the end of the season against Manzano — and yet two weeks later, as a No. 11 seed, Eldorado had somehow managed to play itself into the state semifinals.
Eldorado would prefer to reach the same destination without the theatrics in 2013, if at all possible. No injuries, no suspensions, no white-knuckle finishes, no blowing 20-point, fourth-quarter leads. Those were all part of Eldorado’s bizarre storyline a year ago.
“It was a strange year,” junior quarterback Zach Gentry said.
The Eagles are the Journal’s No. 7 on the metro-area top-10 preseason countdown this season.
“We’ll have to fight to get into the playoffs, just like we did last year,” EHS coach Charlie Dotson said.
Eldorado opens Aug. 30 against Atrisco Heritage at Community Stadium. The Eagles return just three starters on offense and defense — but one of them is Gentry, who is arguably New Mexico’s premier quarterback and one of Class 5A’s genuine difference-makers.
The 6-foot-6, 227-pound Gentry was playing high-quality football at the end of 2012, guiding the Eagles into the Class 5A semis where they were beaten by Las Cruces and finished 6-6.
Gentry has scholarship offers from New Mexico, New Mexico State, San Diego State and Louisville, and almost certainly will have other suitors as he nears the end of his all-important junior season, when recruitment should reach a fevered pitch.
“A lot of people look at him and think maybe he’s a little goofy,” senior wide receiver Jonah Mestes said. “But Zach is definitely not like that. He’s not the goofy 6-7 guy you usually see.”
Indeed, Gentry’s powerful right arm is hardly his only physical asset. He’s Eldorado’s fastest player, Dotson said, and knows how to pick his spots when he runs.
But Dotson’s primary focus is on keeping Gentry upright and healthy. He could probably deploy Gentry on defense if he wanted to, but that would be risking injury. Dotson needs him to remain upright if Eldorado is to challenge in uber-tough District 2-5A.
“It’s our main goal on offense to keep him healthy,” Dotson said. “Our dilemma on offense is, how much do we run Zach?”
Sophomore Jayce Jackson will be one of the featured running backs behind Gentry, and the receiving corps is led by Mestes, although he has not worked out with the team in two months due to a high ankle sprain. He and Dotson both are hopeful he’ll be ready when the regular season begins.
“The past few years, me and Zach have been close,” Mestes said, “so I’m not worried about when I come back about the timing and stuff.”
Receivers Mitchell Lewis and Alek Martinez should also have prominent roles in the passing game.
“Our passing game is gonna be really good,” said another receiver, senior Manny Garcia.
The offense as a whole could include three or four sophomores. Only one offensive lineman returns in guard Anthony Schluter.
“It’s never easy to get an entire group going together,” Schluter said, “but we’ve clicked very well.”
The defensive front and linebackers are all new, which could be problematic considering the number of dynamic offenses on the schedule.
“We’ll have to come from behind, and possibly win some shootouts,” Dotson added. “Zach will have to carry us on his shoulders sometimes.”
That will become more true if Eldorado, as was the case last year, begins to lose players to injury against an unforgiving schedule.
“We’re thin everywhere,” Dotson said.
“We go to Eldorado, which is usually one of the best schools in the state,” said Mestes. “That’s where it starts — the community, and not wanting to let them down.”