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Albuquerque High football on verge of record it doesn’t want

Copyright © 2013 Albuquerque Journal

Albuquerque High School quarterback Ryley Padilla runs for yardage in the season opener against St. Pius. The Bulldogs have lost 37 consecutive games dating to early in the 2010 season. Marla Brose/Journal

Albuquerque High School quarterback Ryley Padilla runs for yardage in the season opener against St. Pius. The Bulldogs have lost 37 consecutive games dating to early in the 2010 season.
Marla Brose/Journal

The streak began quietly, 38 months ago, something nobody imagined would still be a living, breathing entity over three years later.

That streak could reach historic proportions tonight for the down-on-its-luck Albuquerque High School football program.

The Bulldogs hope to avoid a dubious 38th consecutive loss that would break a state record that AHS shares with a school, which like itself, is more recognized for its basketball than its football – Santa Fe High.

It has been three years and two months since AHS last won a varsity football game. What’s worse, the Bulldogs haven’t been close for the most part. They are smaller and younger than every team they play, and physical mismatches have manifested themselves in this way: AHS has been outscored 409-40 this season.

Most of their games have ended early because of the 50-point mercy rule.

The next chance to end the streak comes tonight at Milne Stadium, against 3-5 West Mesa at 7 .

“We’ve had some hard times, some hard games, and we’ve broken down sometimes,” sophomore tight end/linebacker Luis Perez said. “But we’ve always gotten back up.”

So is No. 38, a Add Mediand the record, a fait accompli? Well, West Mesa two weeks ago beat Highland 73-28, and Highland has already beaten AHS 49-0.

“Against most varsity teams,” coach Enrico Marcelli of rival Valley said, “they’re just outmatched. It’s almost like they’re a JV team.”

Albuquerque last won at the varsity level in 2010. The Bulldogs beat Atrisco Heritage 41-19 in that year’s season opener. That was Atrisco’s maiden season, a season in which a senior-less Atrisco squad went 0-10.

New Mexico Stars head coach Dominic Bramante chats with Albuquerque football coach Tim Garro during a visit to AHS earlier this month. Greg Sorber/Journal

New Mexico Stars head coach Dominic Bramante chats with Albuquerque football coach Tim Garro during a visit to AHS earlier this month.
Greg Sorber/Journal

Since then, it has been a litany of losses for AHS, in various shapes and sizes.

The Bulldogs are 0-8 this season. They were 0-10 in each of the past two years and lost their final nine games of 2010.

“It’s the elephant in the room, but so be it,” first-year AHS coach Tim Garro said. “We can’t worry about it. We don’t look at it like, ‘Oh my God, there’s a losing streak.’ We just look at our next game.”

Part of a trend

Here’s the thing: Even before this streak started in Week 2 of the 2010 season, AHS was already in the midst of a very long stretch of tough times.

AHS won a grand total of eight games in six seasons from 2004 through 2009, and never more than two in a single season (2007).

Retrofit that to 2013, and the Bulldogs have accumulated just nine victories in the past 10 seasons.

“Every year, it felt like I had to start over,” former AHS coach (2006-10) Joe Anaya said. “Every year felt like a rebuilding year.”

Before Anaya was dismissed, the Bulldogs were reasonably competitive in the games they lost. In that 2010 season, a handful of their losses were close, including a 44-43 setback to Rio Grande in the season finale.

But in the nearly three-plus seasons since then – the first two under Mike Zufall, and now this season with Garro – the Bulldogs have been dreadful.

In five of AHS’ eight losses this year, they’ve been 50-pointed, meaning the game ended immediately once the margin reached 50 points. And 34 of their 40 points this year came on one night, a 51-34 loss at Santa Fe.

Garro is irate with several coaches who he said flat-out have run up the score on his clearly inferior team. Garro would not mention any of them by name.

“I call them gutless pukes,” a fuming Garro said. “It’s embarrassing for the profession.”

From the time he was hired, Garro – whose reputation for restoring polish to fixer-upper programs like Capital, Estancia and Crownpoint was a key selling point for AHS – understood this was not going to be a short-term fix.

AHS returned only three starters from last season, and the Bulldogs’ roster is likely the smallest and least experienced of any 5A program.

Garro said AHS is down to a total of 70 players for its varsity, junior varsity and freshman teams. A majority of them are underclassmen.

Garro said AHS has lost a number of older players since late August for various reasons, which he said forced his hand in bringing up untested young talent. And he is now committing to young talent that in turn will commit to the program and, hopefully, author its resurrection.

For example, the team has nine sophomore starters and even three freshmen starters, which is almost unheard of for a varsity squad.

The size of the players is another issue. The Bulldogs’ roster is littered with players who are under 150 pounds. Their gritty quarterback, sophomore Ryley Padilla, weighs in at about 135.

But the Bulldogs, Garro insisted, have avoided a major rash of injuries despite being manhandled for the most part every week.

“They’re doing fine,” Garro said. “Kids are kids. They’re resilient.”

Numbers don’t lie

Statistically, AHS football is about as bad off as it gets. Last year, opponents rolled up 512 points to 39 for Albuquerque.

“Losing breeds losing as it snowballs,” Highland boys basketball coach Danny Brown said. “When you’re losing, kids don’t want to be there; kids don’t want to practice hard.”

Brown knows whereof he speaks. When he took over the Hornets in the fall of 2003, the Hornets already were in the throes of a multiyear, 46-game losing streak.

That streak grew to 49 before Highland won a game.

“Everyone knew about it,” Brown said. “So there was no sense in not talking about it. I would just stay the course (if I were AHS). As long as they’re building a program and as long as (Garro) is not worrying about outside influences and what people are thinking or writing or saying, (then) it’s gonna end. You just have to keep working hard.”

AHS also has suffered because of a lack of a consistent feeder system.

From 2010-13, the local Young America Football League office has tracked the number of YAFL teams competing each season. Volcano Vista fielded a total of 56 teams at the various age divisions in those four years. On a list of 19 metro-area schools, Albuquerque High brings up the rear with just five, and that includes three this fall.

AHS had only one YAFL team last year, and none in any age division in 2011.

The lack of incoming experience, according to Anaya, creates freshman players with little or no football acumen when they arrive at AHS. Meanwhile, they’re forced to compete against schools whose players usually have dozens of YAFL games under their belt.

“It’s our job to coach them,” Garro said dismissively of a lack of a strong feeder system. “We can’t use that as an excuse.”

The Journal interviewed four AHS football players Wednesday. Not a one of them ever played in a YAFL game before they got to high school, and one player said 90 percent of the Bulldogs have never played YAFL.

The lack of YAFL teams is not the only issue. With AHS’ struggles, many athletes who live in the district transfer to play football at other schools, further diluting the list of football prospects.

Through all of this, the Bulldogs want desperately to taste victory, but they are still learning as they go.

“We don’t know how to win,” sophomore strong safety Nathan Kamps said.

Unusual perspectives

If Highland’s Brown can speak about a losing streak in firsthand terms, then Dominic Bramante could practically write a novel on the subject.

The New Mexico Stars head football coach once was the head coach at Riverside Indian School in Oklahoma. Riverside, at the time, had the longest losing streak in that state.

It lasted 21 years, from 1979-2000. Bramante was Riverside’s new head coach when it broke that incredible streak in 2000.

Bramante recently was invited to speak to Albuquerque’s football team and share his insights.

“I knew exactly where they were,” he said. “(But) when they’ve had enough and they commit and believe as a unit, and start playing for each other, things will change.”

Bramante adamantly believes AHS will reverse its fortunes.

“It’s going to be a feeling like no other when they do end that streak,” he said. “It’ll be like they never had a losing streak. That sleeping giant is those young people and their dreams. I think they’re an extremely, extremely special group.”

AHS last made the playoffs in 1989. The Bulldogs were once winners; from 1986-91, the school went 43-20.

Tom Ryan, who coached the Bulldogs to consecutive playoff berths in 1988 and 1989, said it’s been difficult to watch AHS’ woes.

“It’s also tough on former players,” he said. “They write to me. In fact, some of the kids just wrote on Facebook. They reminisce and lament. They remember how it used to be, and they’d like to see those days come back again.”

But first things first, and that means ending this monster losing streak, whether it’s this year, next year or beyond.

When will that elusive win come? Hard to say. If AHS doesn’t find a way to beat West Mesa tonight, the Bulldogs meet 1-7 Rio Grande next week in the final game of the regular season.

“It’s tough,” Valley’s Marcelli said. “They just don’t have a lot of kids. Football is a numbers game, and they don’t have many of them.”

“They’re gonna turn it around,” Bramante said. “It can trend the other way. If they break a state record (for losses), the opportunity for them gets even more enormous.”

For their part, the Bulldogs are doing their best to see the positives.

“I think we use it as motivation,” Kamps said. “We don’t want to be known as the team that has the longest losing streak.”

“It’s the elephant in the room, but so be it,” first-year AHS coach Tim Garro said. “We can’t worry about it. We don’t look at it like, ‘Oh my God, there’s a losing streak.’ We just look at our next game.”

 

The streak by game

2010
Los Lunas L, 8-2
St. Pius L, 28-17
Moriarty L, 28-21
Del Norte L, 28-14
Carlsbad L, 41-0
Highland L, 41-12
Valley L, 45-21
West Mesa L, 40-17
Rio Grande L, 44-43
2011
Atrisco Heritage L, 37-0
Los Lunas L, 54-0
St. Pius L, 39-13
Moriarty L, 62-10
Del Norte L, 33-28
Carlsbad L, 55-0
Highland L, 64-6
Valley L, 40-0
West Mesa L, 47-14
Rio Grande L, 44-21
2012
St. Pius L, 56-6
Santa Fe L, 49-13
Eldorado L, 50-0
Del Norte L, 46-0
Moriarty L, 50-0
Highland L, 62-6
Valley L, 50-0
Atrisco Heritage L, 52-0
West Mesa L, 54-0
Rio Grande L, 43-14
2013
St. Pius L, 42-0
Santa Fe L, 51-34
Eldorado L, 50-0
Del Norte L, 53-0
Moriarty L, 55-0
Highland L, 49-0
Valley L, 56-6
Atrisco Heritage L, 53-0
Today: vs. West Mesa


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