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New Coach Predicts Raven Improvement

EDITOR’S NOTE: Today, the West Side Journal/Rio Rancho Journal continues its series previewing the 2011 high school football season.

One could almost describe new Rio Grande High School football coach Jim Danner as being both aggressively and cautiously optimistic.

He insists the Ravens will be a better team than they were in 2010, when they finished 2-8.

“I’m very excited about where they’re at,” Danner said emphatically. “We had a good June, and so far we’re doing what we expected to do.”

But Danner, 66 and with decades of experience as a coach in Belen, plus La Cueva and Cibola, is no dummy. Rio Grande still faces some daunting challenges.

“We’ve got our work cut out for us,” he said.

Danner gave his team the month of July off, because he wants — needs — his team to have fresh legs for the final month, especially after a tough first half that includes matchups against Manzano, La Cueva, Rio Rancho and Las Cruces.

The Ravens open Aug. 27 with the Monarchs.

From an X’s/O’s perspective, there are two key talking points for Rio Grande.

The first is Danner’s desire for Rio Grande to platoon, which means he’d rather not have anybody playing as a full-time starter on both sides of the ball. Whether he has the numbers or talent to achieve that, no one is quite yet certain.

The second, and more important, issue is that the Ravens have got to keep their defense fresh — and off the field as much as possible.

“We’re going to have to run the ball to be successful,” Danner said. The Ravens will feature a variety of options and trap counter sweeps, but need a fairly young offensive line to do its job.

The penalty last year for not being efficient on offense? Well, see for yourself.

Last year, Rio Grande surrendered fewer than 41 points only one time, a 27-7 win over Atrisco Heritage. Even the other game the Ravens won was a 44-43 decision over Albuquerque High.

The Ravens gave up over 47 points a game, a staggering number, even after factoring in games against some of 5A’s heavyweights.

“We’ve got to (shorten) the game and use some clock,” Danner said. “I don’t see us being able to do anything else.”

Angelo Almanzar is expected to get the nod at quarterback, although junior Dustin Lamar is pushing for playing time as well.

Running back is a crucial position for the Ravens. Fullback Chris Hernandez is probably the best of the bunch, although he’ll need to be as good carrying the football as he is blocking for others. The other fullback, Ryan Lucero, will need to have the same traits.

The Chavez twins, seniors Jonathan and Donovan, are going to see time at tailback. Both stand 5-9 and neither is more than 155 pounds. Both have demonstrated game-breaking ability, Danner said.

Neither side of the ball will feature much size; the defense will have to be quick and pursue in bunches, and they’ll have to be good tacklers.

One Danner promise is that he will be utilizing a lot of players, and that includes a large — and promising — sophomore group. Rio Grande has just eight seniors, Danner said. He hopes when classes begin later this month, he’ll pick up some extra players, and he is especially keen on adding ninth- and 10th-graders in order to help build the program from the ground up.

For now, Danner isn’t putting pressure on anyone.

“We’re not worried about making mistakes right now,” Danner said. “We just have to play hard.”

He added: “We need to play hard, play smart, play a lot of kids, so we don’t get players killed early in the year.”

NOTE: One of Rio Grande’s top players from last season, tailback Jaylen Spraggins, has not yet shown up. It is unknown whether he will play this year.