Article & Photos by Jonathan Noah Padilla
As we continue looking forward to the coming season, I want to highlight a few NMAA Football teams that I think everyone should watch this fall. In no particular order, they are:
V. Sue Cleveland High School has been the cream of the crop in New Mexico football for a few years. Last season the Storm went undefeated (13-0). Robert Garza will be going into his first season as Head Coach of Cleveland after Heath Ridonuers departure. This program is tough to go up against as they are high octane on both sides of the ball. Look for 1st team all state OLB Stratton Shufelt to continue his stellar play as the top linebacker in the state. He had an astounding 45 solo tackles and 8 sacks in 2021. He will be joined by the ball hawk Devonte Shendo who was also 1st team all state. The offense will be led by the multifaceted Evan Wysong who passed for 1787 yards, rushed for another 987 yards with 16 totall TDs. Nic Trujillo will be a favorite target for Evans. He had 51 receptions for 906 yards and 10 TDs. Both Evans and Trujillo were 1st team all state as well. If you prefer a ground attack, you can watch Josh Perry rumble and tumble out of the Storm backfield. He put up 173 rushing yards for 4 TDs in the 2021 6A Football Championship. This program is a well oiled machine that will be fun to watch all season long.
Notable returners: Stratton Shufelt (OLB), Evan Wysong (QB), Josh Perry (RB), Nic Trujillo (WR), and Devonte Shendo (OLB/SS)
La Cueva Bears
La Cueva High School will be a strong contender for the state title this fall. Last season, the Bears were 6A District 2 Champions as they were perfect in district play (6-0). Overall they were 10-2 which was good enough for the 3 seed in the class 6A playoffs. La Cueva came up short in the semifinals where they lost by one point (34-35) to Rio Rancho in a double overtime playoff thriller. The semifinal loss last year will provide some extra motivation in 2022. With numerous key players returning, the Bears will have a high-powered offense. Aiden Armenta will be quarterbacking and he is set up to have a very productive year. In 2022, he passed for 2696 YDS (3rd most in NM) and 28 TDs. Aiden will have a plethora of sure handed WRs to throw to. Leading this dangerous corps of WRs will be Exodus Ayers who had 41 REC for 901 YDS and 14 TDs last year. Ayers will be sure to draw a lot of the opposing teams attention which will provide opportunities for Ian Sanchez, Jackson Hix, and Cruz Markham to have big games as well. Out of the backfield, the Bears will have Gabriel Buie who eclipsed the millennium mark in all purpose yards last season. On defense, be on the lookout for Mason Posa and Colt Mangino. Both will be a headache for opponents. La Cueva is going to be a tough team to start the season and will only get better by the time playoffs come around.
Notable returners: Aiden Armenta (QB), Exodus Ayers (WR), Gabriel Buie (RB), Ian Sanchez (WR), Jackson Hix (WR/FS), Cruz Markham (WR/FS), Mason Posa (MLB), Colt Mangino (FS)
Los Lunas Tigers
Los Lunas High School is the defending NMAA 5A Champions. There will be a new 5A champion in 2022 since the Tigers are moving up a class into 6A. They were 13-0 last season but don’t expect that this fall. There will be some learning curves and adjustments needed for 6A ball. Head Coach Greg Henington is fully capable of bringing a competitive football team to the field. The Tigers will have a senior QB/WR returning combo in Cieremans and Trujillo. Look for these two to connect often. Los Lunas will be fun to watch. The Tigers have the potential to make a splash in 6A this year.
Notable returners: Paul Cieremans (QB), Fabian Trujillo (WR), Jalin Holland (WR), Thomas Ordonez (WR/TE), Dom Trujillo (CB), Niko Torres (S)
Volcano Vista Hawks
Head Coach Chad Wallin brings a team that will compete every season. Don’t think that 2022 will be any different. Volcano Vista will be returning 30 varsity players. Look for the Hawks to be tough on the line for both offense and defense. When presented an opportunity last season, Elliot Paskett-Bell showed moments of brilliance as QB. Tristan Cordova will be a good target for Paskett-Bell. Adding Alijah Gonzales at RB will make the Hawks quite balanced. Gonzales was a surprise standout as a sophomore LB last season. Having four returning offensive lineman will be huge for Volcano. On defense, it will be tough to replace Tyler Martinez’s 145 total tackles from last season but Nathan Wallin should fill that role nicely. He will be roaming around behind a strong defensive line comprised of Latrell Treadwell, Marcus Perea, and Zachary Markham. Look for the Hawks to improve throughout the season leading into district play. Come playoff time, Volcano can make some noise.
Notable returners: Elliot Pasket-Bell (QB), Alijah Gonzales (RB/LB), Tristan Cordova (WR), Athony Ortiz (OL), Hirum Begay (OL), Steven Torres (OL), Antonio Bachicha (OL), Latrell Treadwell (DL), Nathan Wallin (MLB), Marcus Perea (DL), Zachary Markham (DL)
Rio Rancho Rams
2021 6A Runner-Up Rio Rancho will look to come back strong in 2022. They have a new coach in Nate Pino who is replacing Gerry Pannoni. The Rams will have to fill the vacated roles left behind on both sides of the ball by Zac Vigil, Dominick Priddy, Lucas Lucero, and Carlos Archuleta. Mikey Wood (WR) will be instrumental for the Rams offense and QB Noah Nelson. Defensively, look out for LB’s Chris Montoya and Vascon Smith. Rio Rancho should have a strong season and will be a tough playoff opponent for anyone.
Notable returners: Mikey Wood (WR), Noah Nelson (QB), Chris Montoya (LB), Vascon Smith (LB), Traiven Williams (WR), Devin Porras (FS), Nic Baca (SS)
Other Notable teams to watch: Centennial Hawks, Las Cruces Bulldawgs, Artesia Bulldogs, Eldorado Eagles, Academy Chargers, St. Pius X Sartans
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