From the valley to the llano, Valencia County prep football teams are gearing up for another season.
Belen is lead by first year head coach Ty House, who came to the program from Hobbs where he was an assistant coach.
2018 Record: 7-5, lost in the Quarterfinals of the 5A playoffs
Players to watch:
• Luke Aragon, senior, quarterback
• Sefe Aragon, senior, linebacker
• Aaron Breeze, junior, offensive line
The Eagles begin the first year of the Ty House era only two seasons removed from a 12-1 record and a loss in the state championship.
“I’ve said this all along, if I were to come in here and say I was going to revamp everything, I would be in the wrong, for the kids and the program’s sake,” House said.
He comes to BHS from Hobbs, where he served primarily as secondaries coach.
Expect the Eagles to employ a more balanced offensive attack this season instead of the run heavy offense the team has employed in the past, which will see the team have more playmakers on the field for most plays.
House said he’s pleased with where the team is at with regards to learning his system, considering how long they’ve had to work on it.
It’s a young squad with only seven seniors, which House said has been a positive thing as he builds his program.
“It’s good because all seven of them are leaders; they’re what our program needs. Those guys have been essential to what we’re trying to do so far as a leadership roles,” the coach said.
“They’re constantly working to get better, trying to figure out what they can do to help the team. Those guys to me have been essential.”
The challenge for BHS will be balancing the short term with the long term, making sure that they put together the best season they can this year while building around this year’s junior class, a group House said the staff is very excited about.
There are always growing pains associated with a new head coach, the question for the Eagles will be how quickly they are able to overcome them.
Belen begins the season at home at 7 p.m., Friday, Aug. 23, against Del Norte.
Los Lunas Tigers
Los Lunas is led by Jeremy Maupin, 2018 district coach of the year.
Last season: 9-3, lost to Roswell in state championship
Players to watch:
• Kade Benavidez, senior, quarterback
• Tyler Kiehne, junior, defensive lineman
The Tigers return several key pieces from last year’s title run, highlighted by quarterback Kade Benavidez.
LLHS will have 27 seniors on the team this year, the largest senior class since Maupin took over the program.
One of the biggest changes for the team following last year’s state championship appearance is the players believe they should be in that position, instead of being happy to be there.
“I think what is good on the flip side of (increased expectations) is that now our kids believe that they need to be there every year,” Maupin said.
“I feel like right when we came home and after Christmas break our kids were ready, these guys want to be that first group that goes and isn’t just happy to get there but wants to go win one.”
Maupin said the team had a really good spring and summer, and the players are pushing each other to become more competitive, with the starters wanting to prove that they still should be starters, and the guys behind them looking for their opportunity.
One major advantage for the Tigers is the size of their team. LLHS is one of a select few in the state that doesn’t have anyone playing both sides of the ball, allowing players to stay fresh and limit contact.
Tyler Kiehne highlights the defense. The junior has already received multiple Division I scholarship offers, including from New Mexico, and was ranked as the No. 3 prospect on the defensive line in the 2021 class by Preps247 among players who have at least attended regional camps.
With a senior stacked roster and talent to spare, the Tigers appear to be the favorites in the district and poised for another deep playoff push.
LLHS opens the season at 7 p.m., Friday, Aug. 23, against Piedra Vista in Farmington.
The Tigers home opener will be 7 p.m., Sept. 20, against Cibola.
Valencia is led by Wes Shank, who begins his second year with the program.
Last season: 6-5, lost to Belen in first round of playoffs
Players to watch:
• Tim Houck, senior, cornerback
• Isaiah Vigil, senior, safety
Heading into Wes Shank’s second season in charge of the program, the team looks to build on last season’s playoff berth.
While the team is much younger and, according to Shank, not as talented, this group has something that last year’s team lacked. Belief.
“I think one of the improvements is mentally, I think we have a better grasp of what we’re doing,” Shank said. “I like the attitude and the belief. Last year’s group was extremely talented, but they had no belief. I think they were kind of shocked as we won some games.
“This group doesn’t have the talent of last year’s group but they do have a better mindset.”
However, he is concerned that the belief might be fragile, particularly if the team struggles early, so one of the goals for the year is to strengthen that mindset by coming out and having more success.
One of the struggles for the Jaguars this year is a lack of numbers, something Shank attributes to the lack of results in previous seasons discouraging kids from playing.
This is particularly prevalent in the junior and senior classes, and is forcing the team to rely on the talent of the freshmen and sophomores in a lot of positions, highlighted by sophomore Nate Rodriguez who is expected to start at quarterback.
Rodriguez has not yet suited up for VHS after hurting his knee playing basketball in eighth grade, so his first taste of high school football came this summer.
Shank believes once he gets some game experience under his belt, Rodriguez has the potential to be a special player for this team.
The team is confident in the players they have in the secondary and at linebacker, with the defense the more experienced and advanced side of the ball going into the year.
Cornerback Tim Houck is the only returning All-District player on the team and highlights the Jaguars strength in the secondary.
More question marks exist up front along the lines, with two sophomores and likely a freshman starting up front.
The group will be undersized, particularly compared to last year, and the team has switched schemes to a 3-4 defense in order to cope with that and make better use of the quickness on defense as well as the strength at linebacker.
The Jaguars open their season with a road game against Alamogordo at 7 p.m., Friday, Aug. 23.
The first home game of the season will be 7 p.m., Friday, Sept. 6 against Rio Grande.