Often, early-season opponents may not factor too much into how the Portales Rams will do in November because of the tough schedule the school books. In recent years, opening with Robertson has been a horse of a different color.
The teams are usually closely matched and, while they’re in separate districts of 3A football, each knows the other could be one of those teams waiting in the playoffs. Both have plenty of playoff experience, with the Cardinals winning a state championship in 2005 and Portales in 2008.
The teams clash at 7 p.m. today in the season opener at Las Vegas, N.M.
Last year, Portales edged Robertson in the opener but finished a lackluster 3-8 and exited in the first round of the playoffs.
Robertson rebounded to a 7-4 record and lost in the quarterfinal round.
“They didn’t lose very many,” said Rams coach Mark McAfee. “It ought to be a good test for us.”
Leroy Gonzalez, in his first year as head coach at Robertson, says the experience of 30 returning lettermen on his team is the Cardinals greatest strength. Gonzalez wasn’t with the team from 2007 through 2009 when he was defensive coordinator for New Mexico Highlands University but prior to taking that post he was on the coaching staff at Robertson for seven years, including a time as defensive coordinator to head coach Chad Roanhaus.
Among those returning for Robertson are senior quarterback Daniel Martinez who threw for 21 touchdowns and recorded 2,000 total yards in 2009. Defensively, all Martinez did was earn a first-team 3A all-state berth as a linebacker.
He will be joined in the backfield by a trio of running backs, including juniors Dalan Abreu and Antonio Arguello and senior Nick Archuleta.
“I think they’ll be run-oriented,” said McAfee. “But they’ll throw it when they have to. We’ve got to put some heat on them and get some real pressure on defense.”
McAfee says Robertson’s running back corps is big and impressive and the Rams’ defense will have its hands full. The coach says he’s glad his squad will have the services of linebacker Jonathan Esparsen after he was injured on the first day of hitting drills.
Senior J.J. Collins will be at quarterback and junior Wyatt Legler and sophomore Colin McAfee in the backfield for Portales. Gonzalez knows that despite the Rams’ record last season, they’re not to be overlooked and he tells his team just that.
“Portales is always coached-up,” Gonzalez said. “I tell them (to) take nothing for granted. When you play District 4 focus on perfect execution on offense and sound technique on defense.”
McAfee says his team has had a good final week of preparation and his team is healthy and ready for football.
“I think everybody’s real positive,” McAfee said. “We took the scrimmage (against Lubbock Roosevelt on Friday) as a real learning experience. We’re excited about getting started.”