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Long wait is over: Prep football season gets underway

Volcano Vista wide receiver David Cormier, right, wrestles the ball away from Cibola's Jacob Smith during s game last seasonat Community Stadium. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Volcano Vista wide receiver David Cormier, right, wrestles the ball away from Cibola’s Jacob Smith during s game last seasonat Community Stadium.
(Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

2016-08-23 22_25_00-_jd0824d01n.indd @ 150%

For nine months, we talk. About the questions and the what-ifs and the possibilities for this school and that. But that gets old after a while.

Starting tonight, we gleefully put that portion of the program behind us and segue to actual football.

At 7 p.m. at Community Stadium, La Cueva and Cibola will get the 2016 prep season underway, and we’ll be off and running toward the finish line of Dec. 3.

The power couple in Class 6A is Rio Rancho and Cleveland. Or is it Cleveland and Rio Rancho? Does one deserve top billing over the other? Can’t we just hybrid them? Clevelancho, anyone?

Rio Rancho-Cleveland is not the state’s best rivalry, but, if the goal is to identify the strongest trending duo, Clevelancho is where we rightfully turn.

Friday, the Rams visit Mayfield. These two could bump into each other again in November or December. Rio Rancho ended last season on a sour note, with one-sided losses to Cleveland and Las Cruces by a combined score of 99-28.

“Some kids gave up last year,” Rams coach David Howes told me in a July interview. “And that’s not us. That’s not who we are. (But) I don’t see any quit in anyone on this team. This year, we’ll be here to be mentally tough for 13 or 14 games. These guys can achieve what they want to achieve.”

The Storm graduated so many impact players, including three Division I signees, that it is easy to imagine Cleveland feeling some residual effects, especially against an unforgiving schedule.

The Rams in 2014 and Cleveland last year finished undefeated. One 6A coach remarked that it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see Clevelancho, Mayfield and Las Cruces as the last four standing come Thanksgiving weekend.

All of last year’s 6A semifinalists – actually, every one of the eight quarterfinalists – open the season with new quarterbacks. That list includes Nic Little at RR, Angelo Trujillo at Cleveland, Torry Locklin at Mayfield, Payton Ball at Las Cruces, Matt Denis at Eldorado and Sebastian Roanhaus at Clovis.

Manzano and Hobbs are on that list, too.

Denis in particular strikes me as someone worth watching, if only because he performed so well under pressure during last season’s playoffs when pressed into emergency duty.

“If he carries over from last year and plays with urgency … he needs to have that mentality going into that first game,” Eagles coach Charlie Dotson said.

What else is new around 6A?

Well, Centennial is new. Piedra Vista is new. Judge Chavez is new, kind of – as head coach of his alma mater, Valley.

His Vikings should be fascinating to watch. La Cueva piques my interest as the Bears unveil their new hurry-up, spread offense tonight against Cibola.

With Rio Rancho today, the Journal has presented readers previews of our 24 metro-area programs over the past 24 days.

Of course, every one of them has doubts and worries to various degrees, but those can be hashed out now.

This should be a season owned by running backs. I’ve written a bunch about the stable of outstanding runners, both locally and around the state. And you’ll hear more, for sure.

Two of the lesser-known guys that fans should enjoy are Eldorado’s Elias Baker and Del Norte’s Avery See. Oh, the force that could be generated if these two (both well over 200 pounds) tried to tackle each other.

Moving along, how will these newly configured, large districts in 6A impact playoff selection and seeding? It’s important to keep your eye on those swing games between schools in different leagues.

“I think it’s wide open,” Mayfield coach Mike Bradley said. And he’s right in this way: There is not one clear-cut favorite in 6A as Cleveland was a year ago.

We also wrote about the prominent new coaches in New Mexico. It’s hard to label a veteran guy like Chavez as new, but he is one of four in the metro area; former Mayfield offensive coordinator Greg Henington has taken over at Belen, which is another team – like La Cueva – where changes abound.

And what will become of St. Pius in Class 5A? Sartans QB Drew Ortiz is a worth-the-price-of-admission player and arguably the best returning quarterback in New Mexico.

Artesia starts the year looking for a third straight championship; the school has won a staggering 29 state titles.

In the upper division, Clovis, Mayfield and Las Cruces have 29 blue trophies – combined. Of course, Cooper Henderson has left Artesia as head coach, turning it over to his nephew, Rex.

Besides Cleveland and Artesia, other defending state champions are Hatch Valley in 4A, Estancia in 3A, Escalante in 2A, Melrose in 8-Man and Hondo Valley in 6-Man. Hatch, Estancia and Melrose, like Cleveland, didn’t lose a game.

Who will be standing at the end in 6A this year, you ask?

Last season, I was one Las Cruces High dropped interception from being right-on with the Bulldawgs and Cleveland. But Eldorado-Cleveland provided us a memorable afternoon.

For this December, should I heed the words of Ram senior tailback Josh Foley?

“As the season goes on, we’ll be just as good as that team,” he said, talking about Rio Rancho’s 13-0 group from two years ago. “If not better.”

OK then. So there’s that.

In a rather brave and bold initiative, I shall give you … Rio Rancho and Mayfield at the Field of Dreams on that first Saturday in December.

I know, I’m a risk-taker. What can I say?