Corley Ayers is a proud Bulldog, having graduated from Albuquerque High in 1992.
He played a little football for coach Tom Ryan and was a teammate of Billy Jenkins, who later toiled in the NFL. The Bulldogs were good back then.
When Ayers gathers his YAFL Bulldogs, a team of 12-year-olds he has coached for five years, he tells them of the past as a way to inspire their future.
“Our vision has been to create an atmosphere so they know what Albuquerque High football has been in the past,” Ayers said. “There’s a lot of tradition and pride in being a Bulldog.”
It seems to have worked.
He figures his Bulldogs are 79-1 in five years.
Last month they won the YAFL Western Region tournament in Las Vegas, Nev., for the fourth straight year.
They have earned proclamations from both the state Legislature and the Albuquerque Mayor’s office.
“It’s been incredible,” Ayers said. “It’s a great group of coaches, great group of young men who have bought into working hard. I’ve been blessed to be a part of it.”
Ayers’ involvement began when his son, Xavier was playing for AHS. Xavier has just completed an NCAA Division II All-American career at Western New Mexico. But five seasons ago, he was part of an Albuquerque High program that was in the midst of a state-record 43-game losing streak.
“I started asking questions about why it was so bad,” Corley Ayers said. “One thing that was definite was that Albuquerque High had no feeder system.”
He said in Xavier’s senior season, the ‘Dogs played a Highland team that had 40 players with YAFL experience. AHS had four.
“There was no feeder system,” Ayers said. “They were young men trying to play freshmen football with no knowledge of the game.”
Ayers got together with Bill Blair, a longtime youth football coach and administrator, to form a plan.
“We started going out into the neighborhood, talking to kids,” Ayers said.
They put together a team of 7-year-olds (including Ayers’ son, Exodus) to compete in the YAFL’s Mighty Mite division.
They have been winning ever since.
“They have bought into the idea that we’re a family,” Ayers said. “They are working hard, doing the things you’re supposed to do in the classroom, with character. And the parents have really bought into knowing this group of boys are special and we want to develop them into the best we can be.”
The team includes Marques Renfro, a running back/defensive end. “He will run through a wall,” Ayers said. “He loves the game, is excited by the game.”
Ayers also lists Jabby Cooper, Arnold Marquez, Isaiah Sanchez. “I could name 20 kids,” he said. “A lot of them have been here since Day One. We had 28 kids this year and 25 of them have been there since the beginning, since they were 7.”
Meanwhile, there are now five Bulldog YAFL teams with 20 to 25 players each. A team of eighth graders will be freshmen at AHS next season.
And about that one loss Ayers’ team suffered? It came in the 2014 Super Bowl, a 12-8 defeat to Rio Rancho.
“I had to take all the responsibility,” Ayers said. “I didn’t coach very well. (Rio Rancho) was a very good team, well-coached. Things didn’t bounce our way.”
But there have been many more wins. Among those beaten were clubs from California and Colorado.
“Some of these teams were mighty surprised to hear about a team from New Mexico,” Ayers said. “But we’ve always told our players, it doesn’t matter where you’re from. It matters how you play the game.
“Respect the game. Good sportsmanship. Hit that guy, help him up. Let him know you’ll see him the next play.”
Let everyone know there is dignity in being a Bulldog.