Inexperienced Cats hopeful
Last updated 8/17/2021 at 3:55pm
CLOVIS - So far, so good for the Clovis High football team.
With several key players to replace from the COVID-abbreviated spring season, the Wildcats are anxious to get going this fall. Clovis, ranked No. 3 in the Class 6A MaxPreps preseason poll, begins its campaign on Friday night with a 7 p.m. kickoff against rival and fifth-ranked Hobbs at Leon Williams Stadium.
"It's good to be where we're at right now, compared to where we were last year," fifth-year CHS coach Cal Fullerton said Monday. "We're thankful to be out here.
"The kids have done a good job of letting us coach them. We'll see after Friday night just where we're at."
The Cats, who went 3-2 during the spring, return just six starters from that squad. They have a lot of young, untested talent.
Last week's scrimmage against Las Cruces High at Ruidoso was helpful.
"We were able to get a lot of kids who haven't played before a lot of reps in the scrimmage," Fullerton said. "It was good for our kids to play against those guys."
Senior Milo Acosta, who played in four games at quarterback in the spring and started the last three, will be under center when play begins. Other returnees on offense are seniors Payton Reames at left tackle and Elijah Wattenbarger at right guard, and junior R.J. Nora at wide receiver.
Three juniors round out the offensive line - Jasiahs Jimenez at left guard, Adan Acuna at center and Braxton Masters at right tackle.
"We're going to rely on our guys up front," Fullerton said. "When push comes to shove, we're going to rely on running the ball."
Senior Angel Chavarria is expected to carry the heaviest load in the running game.
"I see great potential," said Chavarria, who should also log some time in the Cats' secondary. "Ever since my freshman year, I always envisioned winning a state championship. That would be cool."
Joining Nora in the receiving corps are senior Jason Garza and sophomores Will Jordan and Joseph Walker. Jordan will sometimes line up as a tight end.
Fullerton said the Cats won't be afraid to go to the air.
"We have several guys who can catch the ball," he said.
Backups for Acosta at QB are sophomores Manuel Gutierrez and Jett Stone.
"We're young, but we have size and talent," Fullerton said. "We're as big as we've been in a while."
Defensively, senior end Gage Angeles and senior middle linebacker Manny Bustillos are the lone returnees and will anchor a unit which potentially will start five sophomores.
Angeles, who will also see time at tackle on offense, is moving outside on defense after spending the spring at defensive tackle.
'We have a young team, but the young guys did a good job," he said of last week's scrimmage. "I think they're adjusting pretty well. I try to work with those guys, and I try to motivate them."
He said one of the keys for the team is to spend time in the weight room.
"We've got to put some weight on our guys," Angeles said. "If we can do that, it would be pretty cool.
"It's all about effort. If we give 100 percent on the field, I think are chances (of success) are pretty good."
Other projected starters on defense include Jordan at end and either sophomore Jeremiah Johnson or Reames at nose guard, sophomores Josh Mondragon and Kash Roberts at linebacker, sophomore Jett Stone and junior Ezequiele Coronado at cornerback, junior J.D. Burton at strong safety and Nora at free safety. Senior Sergio Solis should also contribute in the line.
Other than Bustillos and Angeles, only a handful of players on defense were significant contributors in the spring.
"The good thing about these kids is they've been around the program long enough that they understand what our defense is about," Fullerton said. "If we can play hard for four quarters, we'll give ourselves a chance to be in games."
Nora is scheduled to be the Cats' punter this season, with sophomore Blake Curtis taking care of the place-kicking.
The team's District 2/5 slate includes Santa Fe High and five Albuquerque contingents - Albuquerque High, Eldorado, La Cueva, Manzano and Sandia.
Clovis is easily the highest ranked district team in preseason by MaxPreps, with Eldorado next from the district at 10th. But because of the shortened spring campaign, Fullerton said it's hard to tell who is the team to beat this time around.
"When you go a full fall season, you have an idea of who'll be good," he said. "It's tough to say who's the favorite in the district."