Coming off an historic season capped by the first playoff victory in school history, Pojoaque Valley football coach John Ainsworth was cautiously optimistic that his herd of Elks would grow this season.
Unfortunately, that success on the field last season when the team went 6-6 hasn’t turned into greater interest among prospective players – at least not yet.
“It was a steppingstone,” Ainsworth said of last season’s success. “When you get into tight situations, you have experienced players that have actually been through it and have done it.”
The coach now just wants more of those players.
Throughout summer voluntary workouts, only about 20 Elks regularly participated. Usually when school starts another dozen or so will begin to show up, but many of those players are inexperienced and don’t realize the value of the summer program, Ainsworth said.
“Our numbers are still down and I can’t figure it out,” he said.
That will likely mean there is going to be some tired football players this season as Ainsworth tries to keep Pojoaque competitive against a challenging schedule.
“We’re going to have a lot of iron man, two-way players,” he said. “And that takes a toll on the kids. That can really wear them down pretty quick.”
And there will be some new faces thrust into the bigger roles, with the entire offensive backfield lost to graduation.
Ainsworth will be relying on junior Chris Quintana to step into the quarterback position, replacing the coach’s son, John Ainsworth Jr., who has taken his multi-dimensional skills to New Mexico Highlands University.
But Quintana has been the backup the past two years and has a decent grasp on the offense, the elder Ainsworth said. And he has a fairly strong offensive line led by senior Julian Lujan (6-5, 300), who is a force on both sides of the ball.
“He’s not a bad runner,” Ainsworth said of Quintana. “He’s not as fast as John, but he’s strong and he’s the type of guy that can gain five or six yards. It’s going to take more than one guy to bring him down.”
With two running backs, however, the Elks are going to need Quintana, who also plays defensive end, to take charge, something he said he’s getting ready to do.
“There’s a lot I need to do to get ready but I’m feeling pretty good about it,” he said.
Defensively, Quintana might be a bit undersized at 6-0, 195, but he attacks aggressively, Ainsworth said, and he has the all-important starting experience.
“I like defense because you can make plays without the ball,” Quintana said.
When the Elks do have the ball, however, he’ll be looking often for speedy senior receiver Isaac Martinez, who finished sixth in the 200-meter dash in the spring and was on Pojoaque’s runner-up 4X100 relay squad.
Martinez is coming off a strong season in which he scored 11 touchdowns and caught 27 passes for 638 yards, averaging 23.6 yards a catch.
He also anchors the defensive backfield, Ainsworth said.
And Lujan is a run stuffer up front, where he will have plenty of help.
“We’re going to run a four-man front and sometimes might jump into a five-man front,” Ainsworth said. “We’ve got eight defensive linemen, so we’re going to keep people rotating.”
Where Ainsworth has some concerns defensively, however, is at linebacker, where it’s pretty much a new group.
Still, despite everything, optimism is high after last year’s success, the players said.
“We made a name for ourselves,” Lujan said. “We want to build on that and make it even farther this year. We’ve talked about it as a team. We know what we want to and how we want to get there.”