Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

La Cueva QB Armenta: The total package

La Cueva High quarterback Aidan Armenta (10) threw for 2,700 yards with 28 touchdowns versus just six interceptions as a junior last year. He has a scholarship offer from the University of New Mexico. (Chancey Bush/Journal)

It wasn’t always a sure thing that Aidan Armenta would be a La Cueva Bear.

A current Pittsburgh Steeler nearly changed his future color scheme.

“It’s a funny story, actually,” said Armenta, La Cueva High’s senior quarterback. “My sister and basically my whole family, most of my cousins, went to Eldorado. And I lived in that area for the longest time, and growing up watching Zach Gentry play for Eldorado was just awesome. Watching that rivalry knew with La Cueva, I just I wanted to be on one side of that, whatever side it was.”

Ultimately, it was La Cueva’s two-year burst, with a state runner-up finish in 2017 and a state championship in 2018, that tilted the scales and swayed him.

And as the 2022 season approaches, the 6-foot-3, 190-pound Armenta stands tall as perhaps the finest pocket passer New Mexico will show this year.

“He’s the total package when you talk about throwing the ball,” La Cueva offensive coordinator Rico Marcelli said. “I’m in year 21 (as a coach), and I haven’t seen anything like it from a guy I’ve coached.”

Armenta, 17, has a scholarship offer from the University of New Mexico. He also has an invitation to compete in one of the Blue-Grey All-American Bowls this winter in Arlington, Texas.

And he is quarterbacking what could be Albuquerque’s best high school football team this season.

“He’s been working hard to have that spotlight on him,” Bears coach Brandon Back said.

Armenta’s junior numbers were impressive. He threw for 2,700 yards, with 28 touchdowns versus just six interceptions. Half of that interception total occurred in the first half of a state quarterfinal game against Volcano Vista. But he rebounded in a huge way, throwing a pair of fourth-quarter TD passes to lead the Bears to a win and into the semifinals.

That was a defining moment of Armenta’s season, and though La Cueva lost in double overtime to Rio Rancho the following week, it was obvious the stage was already being set for even larger things this fall.

Earlier this summer, he quarterbacked a hybrid squad of New Mexicans and Texans to victory in the University of New Mexico’s 7-on-7 tournament — and earned a scholarship offer to the Lobos that same weekend. There is no throw, his coaches say, that he cannot make.

Armenta spent a few frantic weeks during June bouncing from one high-profile camp to the next, sometimes on a consecutive days, from SMU to TCU to Oklahoma State to Texas Tech, then later to UNM and Northern Arizona and UNLV.

These proved to be perhaps the most instructive days in Armenta’s offseason.

“I’ve been going to these camps since I was in the seventh grade,” he said. “I think I can throw the ball with anyone in the country, and I think I proved that this summer. I threw it well at every camp I went to.

“But it’s also being consistent. You see all this talent from around the country, and every single guy can sling it. How you separate yourself is how consistent you are every single play.”

Marcelli echoed that point emphatically.

“He’s better at everything, to be honest,” Marcelli said, comparing the 2021 Armenta to the 2022 model. “The most shocking thing is how well he knows things and how fast the ball is out of his hands. It’s almost a shock when he doesn’t hit a receiver at this point.”

La Cueva High quarterback Aidan Armenta (10) listens to his coaches with teammates at the end of Thursday’s practice. Armenta plays for one of the best teams in the state. The Bears open their season Aug. 19 at Rio Rancho. (Chancey Bush/Journal)

This La Cueva offense is returning virtually all its key components and is expected to be among the most prolific in Class 6A.

However, the Bears did suffer a recent setback when top receiver Exodus Ayers announced he was transferring to a prep school in New Hampshire, where he is expected to reclassify as a junior. He caught 15 TD passes last year for the Bears.

There is a substantial void without Ayers, but Back said the Bears have the receiving depth to overcome it. La Cueva has most of its offensive line returning, and running back Gabriel Buie (a first-team all-state selection last fall) was tremendous for the Bears a season ago.

“Aidan is the best quarterback in the state,” Buie said. “No doubt about it. He makes sure everything gets done right and well and makes sure we execute perfectly.”

Slots Ian Sanchez and Jackson Hix, plus tight end Cruz Markham and Mason Crowell — the player expected to fill Ayers’ spot on the perimeter — give Armenta options, Back said.

“You have to choose which monster you want to get after,” Back said, talking about La Cueva’s balance of run and pass.

Given Armenta’s skill set, and his confidence and familiarity with the offense, expectations are extremely high for him and the Bears as a whole.

“We don’t think anyone can stop us,” Armenta said. “We’re just going into every game trying to score on every single drive. Manage the game, keep our defense off the field.”

La Cueva returns just a couple of standouts on that defense, and Armenta admitted La Cueva’s offense could benefit them by being efficient and high functioning.

Much for La Cueva will depend on the lesser-known receivers, whose roles are increasing in stature with the departure of Ayers.

“They’re talented, but they didn’t get to (be more well known) because we were so focused (on Ayers). But I think a lot of the guys will have a chance to step up and have bigger numbers,” Armenta said.

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Armenta’s talent is, in part, DNA-related; his father, Jonas, was once a standout multi-sport athlete at Bloomfield High who was drafted by the San Diego Padres out of high school.

Aidan Armenta said La Cueva’s reputation and on-field results made it the right call to be a Bear.

“I wanted to play at a program that was, historically, one of the best in New Mexico,” he said. “Coach Back and all the staff, they were so impressive at every single thing they do.”

Marcelli, in turn, said no situation would be too big for Armenta to handle. He and the Bears open Aug. 19 at Rio Rancho, the team that ended their season last November.

“I’m never gonna worry about personal statistics and goals,” Armenta said. “As long as I can be a good teammate and get wins for this team and make everyone better around me, I’ll be doing my job.”

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