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Rams won't get ahead of themselves

PORTALES – With a relatively experienced squad on hand, it might seem reasonable for Portales High football coach Jaime Ramirez to think the Rams are headed for a stellar season.

They might be, at that, but you won't get Ramirez to say as much, even with a handful of third-year starters.

"I don't want to count our chickens before they hatch," said Ramirez, entering his 12th season with the program. "We coach the boys to work hard and be humble."

PHS opens its 2023 campaign at 1 p.m. on Saturday against Highland at Albuquerque's Milne Stadium. Portales defeated the Hornets 31-16 in last year's opener at Greyhound Stadium.

Last season, the Rams got off to a 6-0 start before dropping a 48-47 shootout to Valley at Albuquerque. They lost twice to District 4-4A rival Lovington, once in the district and regular-season finale and again in the Class 4A playoff quarterfinals, finishing 9-3 overall (3-1 District 4-4A).

Portales return considerable experience on both sides of the ball. The key is replacing four starters on the offensive line.

Senior Jose Bustamante is the lone returnee, and he's moving from right tackle to center. The tackles are slated to be junior Giddeon Smith and Rigoberto Holguin, while seniors Nehemiah Yorfee and Adel Lagarda are competing at left guard and senior Abraham Dunor and sophomore Tony Rodriguez are battling at right guard.

"I think they're getting better every day," Ramirez said. "If the line can mesh well, I think we're going to do very well."

Junior Paxton Culpepper returns at quarterback, with senior Zane Mayberry and junior Tommy Lopez at wide receiver. Seniors Andru Ontiveros, Braden Beck and Dylan Saunders will all get time at the slot back positions, with five players – seniors Zach Radloff, Layton Faust and Lazarus Fitts and juniors Kaidyn Cordova and Dallas Lozano – competing at running back.

Defensively, nine players return with considerable starting experience. Yorfee and junior Jaylon Newburn are slated to man the end positions, with Dunor at nose guard, Faust at strongside linebacker, senior Manny Chavez at middle linebacker, Holguin at weakside linebacker and seniors Devin Diaz and Santino Espinoza at outside backer positions.

The secondary consists of Lopez at safety and senior Tilmon Richards and junior Xavier Tarpeh at cornerback.

"Our defense sets the tone for our team," Ramirez said. "They're aggressive and fast to the ball. They're the heart of our team."

Espinoza said the Rams are well-positioned for a big year, especially on that side of the ball.

"I think the extra year of experience (for most of the team) will play a big role," Espinoza said. "Our defense was solid enough last year, and now we have that extra year of experience.

"I feel like I can anticipate more what plays the other team will run."

He said participating in track in the spring has helped him improve.

"I feel I've definitely gotten faster from track," Espinoza said. "I feel like I definitely know what I'm doing."

Senior Tony Standifer returns to handle all place-kicking duties for PHS, while Diaz will be the team's punter.

"I think we're a good team," Ramirez said. "Maybe my response is boring, but what I preach to the kids is, 'Let's get better every day and every week.'

"I don't want to be looking past Highland, because that's who we're playing this Saturday."

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