Los Lunas Tigers inexperienced; ready for challenge

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If the last three seasons were a movie, the Los Lunas football team would have been the leading men, a talented group that was among the favorites in Class 4A.

The 2014 season finds the Tigers playing the role of underdog, and first-year coach Terrell Trantham and his new batch of assistants as the directors of a drama that could rival “Rocky.”

Kenn Rodriguez-News-Bulletin photo: Los Lunas running back O’Maury Samuels, left, takes a handoff from QB Ryan Kline during preseason drills.

“It’s true that people have probably labeled this as a down year for us,” said Trantham, a former Belen High School standout who spent the last two years as defensive coordinator for Los Lunas’ archrival. “We’re looking to sneak under the radar.”

That idea is not the worst one for a team that lost 22 seniors, seven among them who were named All-Stars in Class 4A, which has been rebranded as Class 5A this season.

The Tigers return just two starters among 13 seniors and 11 juniors, one on each side of the ball – quarterback Anthony Sanchez, who was sidelined by a shoulder injury halfway through the 2013 campaign, and offensive lineman/defensive end Dane Authement, who was a strong part of the Los Lunas defense.

“We’re coming together as a team,” Authement said. “The guys know what they need to do. We’re feeling pretty good.”

Trantham is inheriting a team that has a good number of upper classmen who are short on game experience because of the overwhelming talent of the Tigers’ senior class of 2014. His top assistants are offensive coordinator and former Rio Grande head coach Jim Danner, plus defensive coordinator Tony Jaramillo, who held that same job at Alamogordo for many years.

“They’re two very experienced coaches, which is nice to have,” Trantham said. “Having them on staff allows me to be on both sides and manage the game. It’s worked out well. To be honest, (it’s) made life easier.”

With the unenviable task of continuing Los Lunas’ success – the Tigers were the 4A runner-up in 2012, and a state semifinalist last year, losing both times to Goddard – Trantham and his team are using the preseason to begin to sort things out, something he thinks is already paying dividends.

“We’ve been rotating as many kids as possible during practice so the kids feel like they’re getting as many reps as possible,” he said. “As we progress through the early part of season, we feel like we can let kids have a lot of opportunities to prove themselves and get a really good shake.”

That includes the quarterback position, where senior Ryan Kline will battle again with Sanchez. Kline said the team’s switch to the flexbone offense from the spread, hasn’t been as jarring as some might have thought.

“We’re running more option this year,” Kline said. “We don’t have the tall guys at receiver anymore, so we’re running more short routes. I’m pretty excited about it.”

One player who could be the difference between a winning season and a losing one is sophomore running back O’Maury Samuels.

Samuels made a few waves as a freshman behind senior Jalen Chavez last season. Trantham expects big things from Samuels this season as the main back in the team’s new option attack.

“He’s got a huge upside,” Trantham said, pointing to Samuels’ performance at the recent NMPreps.com Combine in Rio Rancho as proof. “(He) was voted top running back there, he lit it up in the (40-yard dash), the long jump and the bench press.”

For his part, Samuels said he was looking forward to being more involved in the offense.

“I feel more confident,” Samuels said. “I learned a lot about ball-carrying vision (last year). I think I can be a three-down back and carry a lot more of the load.”

Expectations may be lower around the state for Los Lunas, but the team itself feels that it has a lot to live up to from the last two seasons.

“We have high expectations of what we want to prove this year,” Kline said.

Authement agreed.

“We’re being overlooked like crazy, but we’ve got all the tools to do what we’ve done the past few years,” he said.