Cleveland’s coaches and players celebrate their state championship win last year. The Storm tries to repeat under a new head coach in 2022. (Mike Sandoval/For the Journal)
The Class 6A prep football season isn’t wasting any time in making its presence felt.
Although the 2022 season begins Thursday with a handful of games, including four in the metro area, but it’s Friday night when things begin to ramp up. The schedule includes three matchups pairing six of 6A’s best: Centennial at Cleveland, Las Cruces at Volcano Vista and La Cueva at Rio Rancho.
Cleveland probably has the most electrifying offensive trio in the state in senior quarterback Evan Wysong, running back Josh Perry and slot Nic Trujillo. Wysong and Trujillo have already committed to the University of New Mexico.
The Storm brings back just one offensive lineman. The defense is spearheaded by inside linebackers Isaac Medrano and Stratton Shufelt, both juniors.
“We definitely have a lot to prove and a lot to earn,” new head coach Robert Garza said.
Rio Rancho, which lost to Cleveland in November’s 6A state final, also has a new coach in Nate Pino. The Rams will be new at QB with junior Noah Nelson (also a running threat) and at tailback with junior Anthony Raymer. But the Rams have receivers Mikey Todd and Traiven Williams II returning.
The fast, aggressive defense is led by senior linebacker Chris Montoya.
“We want to stop the run and we want to run the football,” Pino said.
Volcano Vista graduated 35 players but returns 33 seniors. Elliott Paskett-Bell had several games at QB last season, a definite plus for the Hawks, who have the talent and experience to fill the holes left by other graduated skill-position players, coach Chad Wallin said.
Defensive line is going to be a plus for the Hawks, with seven players, including 275-pound Latrell Treadwell and Marcus Perea, rotating into the game.
Chris Howe, whose specialty is defense, is the new coach at Cibola, and he liked the way his team defended La Cueva in a scrimmage. Howe believes the Cougars have the talent on that side (nose tackle Malachi Strange anchors the line and cornerback Nomar Alfaro is an underappreciated gem, Howe said) to go with an offense that returns three outstanding receivers in Marcus Wilson, Brendan Castillo and Brayden Mummert.
Daniel Penham, an athletic 6-foot-3 QB, opens the season at that position, even as Cibola’s last QB, Aden Chavez, seeks to become eligible after moving back from Florida. The New Mexico Activities Association, as of Tuesday afternoon, had not ruled on his eligibility.
An untested offensive line is an area to watch with Cibola.
La Cueva not only opens as the favorite in District 2, but the Bears are equipped to make a run at a state title.
Defensive back Colt Mangino and linebacker Mason Posa are the only starters back on defense, but La Cueva is loaded on offense, led by senior QB Aidan Armenta and tailback Gabriel Buie.
Sandia’s Malachi Thymes is also one of 6A’s top backs and is expected to have an outstanding season. Sandia also returns QB Dalen Moyer, who was the starter in the second half of last season. And Sandia, coach Chad Adcox said, will be more balanced offensively than people think as Moyer distributes the ball. Defensively, Adcox added, the Matadors must be better against the run than they were last year.
Farmington was the No. 1 seed in last year’s 5A playoffs, and the Scorpions graduated two dozen players off that team. But they bring back just as many seniors this fall. Farmington has a new QB in junior Trel Griego and a strong receiving corps, but the Scorpions only return one starter on defense.
Eldorado’s biggest obstacles, coach Charlie Dotson said, are being undersized along the offensive line and at linebacker. But the Eagles do return three starters – Josiah Mitchell, Damien Lucero and Jessie Wells – at receiver, and Nate Velez, who missed last season with an injury, should bolster the running game.
West Mesa has a new coach in Landrick Brody and his son, Elijah, a left-handed junior, is at quarterback after transferring from Cleveland. The Mustangs, like Eldorado, are a little bit undersized as they switch from District 1 to District 2.
Los Lunas opens as a huge favorite in District 4. The Tigers were last season’s 5A state champions and are expected to be very competitive as they move up.
Los Lunas senior QB Paul Cieremans was almost certainly the 5A MVP last year and remains an extremely dangerous dual-threat athlete. He accounted for almost 3,000 yards last year.
Albuquerque High features one of 6A’s more unheralded talents in cornerback Jabby Cooper (5-9, 165), who already has offers to four state schools, including New Mexico Military Institute. The Bulldogs also have two 300-pound tackles in senior Chapel Bray and junior TJ McCarthy.
AHS coach Tim Johnson described the Bulldogs, who only have 10 seniors, as athletic but slightly inexperienced and certainly capable of competing for the runner-up spot in this district.
Capital was 4-6 last season in 5A. Santa Fe started 4-0 last season before facing heavier resistance once district began. The Demons graduated a majority of their impact skill-position players.
Clovis is in a rebuild under new coach Andrew McCraw, who coached Belen for one season before taking the Wildcats job. He got a late start in the offseason, so expect Clovis to be heavily in transition,
District 3 ought to be competitive with Centennial, Hobbs, Las Cruces and an Organ Mountain team that most everyone expects to be vastly improved.
The Hawks are experienced, and their senior running back, Mikah Gutierrez, went for 1,400 yards last season. Plus, all five starting linemen were in the fold last year. The defense is similarly experienced.
Hobbs gave Cleveland a difficult time for two quarters in last year’s quarterfinals, and the Eagles should be big, experienced and athletic again led by all-state receiver Kaden Trevino. Omar Argott is an athletic, dual-threat QB.
“We’ve got very high hopes for the season,” Hobbs coach Ken Stevens said. “We want to see us take that next step, and we believe this is the group to maybe get us over the hump.”
Las Cruces is quite young, but coach Mark Lopez expects his team to be ready when district play arrives. The Bulldawgs graduated their entire offensive line, and their top receiver, Zakye Hawkins, has given up football to focus on baseball. But running back David Barela should be a force, Lopez said.
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Organ Mountain has positive buzz as the Knights could be a factor with the most experienced team coach Steve Castillo has had in his four seasons.
“The kids are excited, they’re older, there’s pretty good chemistry right now,” Castillo said.
Top knights include space-eating Christian Valenzuela, a 6-foot, 305-pound nose/defensive tackle, and running back/defensive end Fabian Lozoya.
Senior-dominated Carlsbad is a bit of a wild card in this district with new coach Oliver Soukup, a longtime assistant at New Mexico State, taking over. But the Cavemen do have one of the top prospects in the state in Tylen Gonzalez, a 6-7, 265-pound defensive end who in June committed to the University of Arizona.
Alamogordo was 2-8 last season in 5A. Rio Grande and new coach Chuck Santistevan want to remain independent.