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James Yodice picks the best prep sports stories of 2015

Longtime Albuquerque Academy swim coach Dave Barney is seen with some of the trophies he has won during his tenure at the school. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Journal)

Longtime Albuquerque Academy swim coach Dave Barney is seen with some of the trophies he has won during his tenure at the school. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Journal)

As I pored over the 2015 calendar year in New Mexico high school athletics in an effort to dwindle all those great stories into my top-5 list, I was struck by the unusual and eclectic nature of this quintet of stories.

Happy New Year, everyone.

5 Zach redux

Here is a first for this particular column – the same story appearing in consecutive years.

We ended 2014 talking about Zach Gentry, the Eldorado quarterback, and the myriad college suitors lapping at his heels. This included Alabama, among others.YODICE-James_2012

And by the time the year ended, Gentry was on board with the University of Texas.

Then Jim Harbaugh was named head coach at Michigan, and Gentry suddenly was thrust into play again.

The former NFL quarterback even swung by the Gentry home and threw some footballs with Gentry in front of the house during a much-ballyhooed January visit.

After decommitting from Texas, it was only a couple of days after Harbaugh’s in-person sales pitch that Gentry pledged allegiance to the Wolverines.

4 I’ve got 35? You?

There are a few coaches here in the metro area who I will admit I’m rooting for to get that first state championship. Danny Brown (Highland) and Ray Rodriguez (Cibola) in boys basketball are two; Eldorado girls hoops coach Mike Huston is another.

Then there’s Dave Barney, who has personally kept Albuquerque Academy’s construction staff busy erecting new display cases for all the hardware he has earned.

Barney in July was inducted into the National Federation of State High School Associations Hall of Fame.

He is just the eighth New Mexican to join this hall. Barney has led Academy to 35 state championships, 19 with the boys and another 16 with the girls.

35.

Um … so what took so long to induct him?

3 The greatest Trojan

Speaking from a purely professional point of view, no words cut me deeper than the tweet sent out by the Mayfield football handle on Aug. 12:

“Today, we lost the Greatest Trojan.”

Jim Bradley was 82 years old when he died in Las Cruces. Some have – and will – argue that he was New Mexico’s most successful high school football coach. The man averaged 10 wins a season for his entire prep career. Just think about that.

He led both Mayfield (five) and Roswell (two) to multiple state titles, and Bradley even managed to turn New Mexico State into a somewhat credible program when he coached the Aggies for a spell.

If New Mexico had a Mount Rushmore of legendary coaching faces, Bradley’s certainly would be on that rock.

His death was a terrible loss. Me? I will miss his unmistakable voice and his unshakable passion for high school football.

2 Right this way …

Rio Rancho Public Schools began drug testing its athletes starting with the 2015-16 school year, and it gets such a high ranking today because the district is the largest to date to initiate such a program.

Which begs the question – will other districts of similar size (think Farmington, Roswell, Gallup) think about joining the cause in the near future?

It is important to point out that among the head coaches at the two high schools, Rio Rancho and Cleveland, not a single one of them voted against the idea of a drug-testing policy.

We all know this: no policy is going to catch every student. But it was a very strong statement by Rio Rancho.

1 Finally!

As Cleveland and Eldorado prepared to do battle in the Class 6A football championship game, I got to thinking about all those years when we thought we might get two local teams in the final, but didn’t.

There was at least one year when we had three strong metro entries in the semifinals and still it didn’t happen.

But in 2015, there was, at last, a big-school title game with an entirely local flavor.

The Storm’s 13-0 season in most years would be enough to stand alone here, and Cleveland beat the Eagles 48-35 in the final.

That Eldorado and the Storm both won road semifinal games in Las Cruces to make this elusive matchup happen – the Eagles, in particular, provided one of the most thrilling moments of the entire calendar year, beating Las Cruces on a walkoff field goal, 44-42 – only added to the historic nature of the game itself.

It was worth waiting for.

Story 1A is the legal battle of Cleveland High running back Shawn Nieto to play in that state final, and the myriad confusion that erupted as a result. To rehash everything here would take far too long, and it’s the holidays. Hence, this is my gift to everyone.

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