Rattlers kick off grid season Saturday

QCS Staff

Six starters return both ways, an all-state running back is back to lead a potent offense and more than 50 players came out to compete for a spot on veteran coach Dub Smith’s tradition-rich team.

It’s no wonder most of New Mexico expects Tucumcari will contend for another state title this football season.

“We have a really good group of first-line players,” said Smith, who’s beginning his eighth year as the Rattlers’ head coach.

“We’ve got a lot of good skill people back and we’ve got the best attendance we’ve had since I’ve been here. We had over 50 kids come out and always before we’d had anywhere from 37 to 44 or 45. They work real hard and they’ve got a great attitude, so we feel real good about (the season).”

Tucumcari kicks off its season at 1 p.m. today in Mora. The Rattlers’ home opener is Friday night against Crownpoint.

Class 2A coaches in an Albuquerque Journal poll have ranked the Rattlers fourth in the state, behind Hatch, Santa Rosa and Lordsburg. They are, of course, accustomed to high expectations, having won a state title in 2002 and losing a heart-breaker in the 2000 championship tilt.

But challenges must be overcome if Tucumcari is to return to its lofty perch of years past.

The Rattlers, who finished 5-4 last year and did not make the playoffs for the first time since 2001, don’t have a lot of depth, Coach Smith said.

Eleven players are expected to double as starters on offense and defense.

“I think the whole key is going to be staying healthy,” he said. “We’re hoping some young players will come through.”

The other big concern for Tucumcari boosters is some stiff competition. Though District 2-2A has only three teams — Santa Rosa, Tucumcari and Clayton — and two will make the playoffs, all three in the loop are ranked in the coach’s Top 10 poll.

Coach Smith said a challenging non-district schedule should prepare his bunch for a strong finish.

“I’d say Mora will be the weakest team we play all year and each week it’s going to get tougher. We’ll probably play three or four teams that will be ranked in the top five or six in the state,” Smith said.

He’s not looking past Mora either, though the Rattlers defeated the Rangers, 42-6 last year in Tucumcari.

“It should be a good first ball game,” he said. “They lost several players from last year, but you know they’ve got some good athletes over there. they won a state basketball championship (73-58 over Pecos in March), so they’ve got to have good athletes.”

Senior running back Eric Holt leads Tucumcari’s stable of good athletes. He was a first-team all-state selection as a junior.

D.J. Martinez, a second-team all-district running back as a freshman, is another offensive sparkplug.

And Smith said his 2005 offensive line may be the best he’s had in Tucumcari.

Drew White and Brian Lopez, both all-district picks a year ago, are back to anchor the Rattlers’ lines both ways.