Prep Football Preview Class 5A: Fab Four takes over - Albuquerque Journal

Prep Football Preview Class 5A: Fab Four takes over

Artesia’s Payton Deans, left, seen here pulling on Los Lunas quarterback Paul Cieremans, will play quarterback for the Bulldogs this season, sharing the role early on with Nye Estrada. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

The teams that were seeded 1 and 2 in last year’s Class 5A football playoffs aren’t in 5A anymore. The teams that were seeded 3-6 are now in the same district.

The 5A season is assured of crowning a new champion in 2022 as defender Los Lunas, the 2 seed behind Farmington, has moved up into Class 6A, as have the Scorpions.

Much of the focus this fall centers around District 4. Last year’s state runner-up, Artesia, along with Roswell and Goddard, already comprised one of the most potent trios in any league in any class. But now they’ve been joined by Mayfield, making this one of the rare New Mexico football districts that has ever had four programs that had won state championships.

This quartet — Goddard, Artesia, Mayfield and Roswell, in that order — occupy the first four slots in the first list.

Artesia lost 40-28 in the state final last November at Los Lunas in the Bulldogs’ first season under new coach Jeremy Maupin.

“If you watched us Week 1, nobody, including our guys, believed we’d be playing on the final weekend,” Maupin said.

Artesia has three dozen seniors, many of whom contributed to some degree or another last year.

One of the big changes is Payton Deans, who was an outside linebacker a season ago but will quarterback Artesia in a shared role — at least early — with junior Nye Estrada.

Maupin wasn’t yet sure if the two-QB approach would be a regular wrinkle or just an early experiment.

As always, the Bulldogs have a deep crop of receiving talent, including Peyton Greathouse and Devyn Fierro. Defensively, Phillip Finley was among 5A’s leaders in interceptions.

Goddard is also senior-laded, with 25 playing for veteran coach Chris White.

“We’ve got a good kind of mix of returners and young guys, and also some starters that are juniors and seniors that don’t have a lot of experience,” White said.

A couple of players who missed the bulk of the 2021 season due to injury — running back Javyn Morales and senior middle linebacker Hector Salvarrey — are healthy as this season begins. The Rockets also feature a two-way all-state player in guard/DL Landon Victor.

As for this new super district, which will start play in October, White’s thoughts probably mirror that of many others.

“It’s not only, can you beat a team in your district, but can you beat them twice?” he said.

Mayfield might be new to this district, but the Trojans faced Roswell, Goddard and Artesia last season, so they have a fix on what’s ahead. Former Carlsbad coach Gary Bradley is joining his brother, Mike, Mayfield’s head coach, as the Trojans’ offensive coordinator.

Mayfield was senior dominated last season, so the Trojans only return a small handful of starters.

“We’re basically starting over,” Mike Bradley said. “But we’ve got some guys who will step up. They understand what the Mayfield tradition is all about.”

Roswell started 0-4 last season but rebounded in a huge way and ended up as the 3 seed in the playoffs.

The Coyotes were an extremely young group that eventually won the regular-season district championship.

The district Mayfield left behind will include Gadsden, as the Panthers emerge from recent independent status.

Deming defensive end Ian Ortiz is already attracting college interest and offers, and the Wildcats are poised once more to be playoff caliber and might possibly be the preseason district favorite.

Santa Teresa won nine games last year and was a state quarterfinalist, although the Desert Warriors were hit hard by graduation.

From the metro area, Belen and new head coach Kevin Peña open at home Friday against Los Lunas in an extremely rare early-season meeting between the Valencia County rivals. This is the third head coach in as many years for the Eagles, who lost in the quarterfinals last November to Los Lunas.

Belen has 15 returning starters, including junior RB/safety Diego Avila, senior safety/WR Elijah Romero and senior guard/LB Adam Aguilar.

Junior Hunter Garcia is the Eagles’ new QB.

Depth is probably Peña’s largest concern as the Eagles have a few athletes starting on both sides of the ball.

“If we avoid injuries,” he said, “we’ll be OK.”

Belen’s new district includes Piedra Vista — a team many believe could be favored in that league — plus Miyamura and Highland.

The Hornets suffered a setback when starting QB Isai Herrera injured his knee in the team’s scrimmage against Rio Grande.

Sophomore Alex Lopez is next man up for Highland. “He can do the job,” Hive coach Phillip Lovato said. “He doesn’t throw it as good as Isai, so we’ll have to be creative.”

On the plus side, many of Highland’s skill-position athletes are back, including sophomore RB/LB Amiri Mumba.

Senior Aaron Loya is one of Highland’s biggest (6-0, 290) and best players; New Mexico Highlands has already offered him. He plays center and nose tackle.

Manzano drops down from 6A, and the Monarchs’ new district rivals are Del Norte, Los Alamos and Valley.

The Vikings made the playoffs last season with a young group and they have a new head coach in Billy Cobos who has implemented new offensive and defensive schemes.

The Valley offense has a fresh coat of paint. Previous QB Caeden Jojola will move to running back where the Vikings feel he’ll add extra value, Ricky Candelaria won’t run the ball as much as he focuses on linebacker, and sophomore Julian Butkivich is the new quarterback.

Manzano hopes the switch to 5A will bring more success, but the Monarchs are relatively inexperienced. Still, second-year head coach Stephen Johnston said, Manzano has depth at the skill positions. Eddie Romero, a former guard, is playing QB for Manzano and gives the Monarchs a dual threat.

Del Norte remains in a rebuilding mode and the Knights need to withstand a tough early schedule that includes Deming, Valencia and St. Pius.

Knights coach Bruce Langston believes each of the four teams in the district will have a chance to finish first.

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