MESCALERO – Mescalero football coach Leonard Velasquez is confident his team can do better than last season.
He’s confident they can make the State eight-man playoffs this year.
He feels that way for some very specific reasons.
“I expect these kids to be more prepared this year because they know the system,” Velasquez said. “We have a lot of kids back, and it looks promising.”
In addition to the extra experience the Chiefs return from last year’s 4-6 team, Velasquez expects they’ll be playoff material, particularly since they were last year.
Last season, Mescalero was good enough for the eighth seed, but missed out because Jemez Valley – as a district champion – was given the bid.
Now the playoffs have been expanded to 12 teams – there are 21 schools in the state that play eight-man – meaning the door is a little wider for the Chiefs.
“If everything holds suit this year, everything should be pretty good,” Velasquez said. “Also, moving into a new district, it should be interesting.”
That “new district” is actually still District 3, but the makeup has changed dramatically. Gone are Magdalena and Alamo Navajo, joining are historical powers Tatum and Gateway Christian, with Mesilla Valley Christian making the drop all the way from 3A 11-man football.
Still in the mix are Carrizozo and Cloudroft.
“I’d say Gateway is the favorite in our district,” Velasquez said. “Cloudcroft has everyone back except their quarterback, and I expect Mesilla Valley to have a lot of kids.”
Returning for Mescalero is every tailback, including Harry Wheeler, Christian Tsinnijinnie and Austin Burrma. Patrick Denny and Alex Poncho also return.
Additionally, there’s a transfer in from Manzano High School in Albuquerque named Michael Davalos.
Davalos didn’t play football for the Monarchs, but rather played club level rugby. He’ll be eligible from day one this year.
Mescalero will continue to run a single-wing offense Velasquez installed last season, and learned a few things coaching the South All-Star small school football team over the summer.
The goal is to take the system in place and add a few “wrinkles” in there.
“This is a tough schedule for these kids, so we’re adding things that can make them successful,” Velasquez said. “Once we get to district, we’d better be hitting on all cylinders by that time because we’ll be starting with Gateway.”