Championship comes with baggage

Entering the 2003 playoffs as defending state champions, the Rattlers have big game experience, but they also have a target on their back.

“I think it gives us a little more pressure,” said junior quarterback Chris McCasland. “Everybody wants to beat the defending champion, that is their goal.”

The Rattlers will meet Tularosa Saturday in the first leg of their title defense.

While 2002 state championship team picture remains pasted on a billboard on First Street near Interstate 40, the Rattlers are now forced decide whether a state championship adds pressure or valuable experience.

Sophomore running back Eric Holt received limited playing time on last year’s team which featured running backs Pablo Pacheco and Rob McClelland. With Pacheco lost to graduation and McClelland to injury, Holt has received significant number of carries.

“We’re going to be kind of scared, but once the week goes by the sacredness will go away and we will just be pumped up and ready to go,” Holt said. “The championship will help us out because we know we can do it.”

Junior tailback Michael Baca said he expects to have three rings on his finger by the time he graduates. But he admitted last year’s title will add tension to the upcoming playoffs.

“Everybody is depending on us and they think we can do it again,” Baca said. “All year we have said we have a better team than last year. We just have to prove it.”

Senior linebacker A.J. Molinas is a vocal leader on a young Rattlers team that been hurt by injuries at times during the season. He said having the experience of winning the title last year will pull the players together and benefit the team more than any pressure will hurt them.

“It makes us want to get there again,” Molinas said. “That feeling was like the greatest feeling you could ever have, it gives you determination to get there again.”