Dickie Roybal doesn’t think the Melrose Buffaloes are the favorites for the eight-man crown.
“Mountainair’s probably the best,” the longtime Melrose coach said. “Animas will be decent.”
Of course, Roybal has sometimes undersold his squad. He didn’t say the Buffaloes were runaway favorites last season, and all they did was go 13-0 for the second-straight year, pitch three shutouts and hold six other opponents to just one touchdown.
Though Melrose junior Lance Widner knows health will be the biggest factor, he’s confident.
“We expect the same as last year,” he said. “We come here and start working. Every day, we drive the sled.”
If Widner turns out correct, the Buffaloes — who should actually be playing six-man due to lower attendance numbers this year— could make the step from champions to dynasty.
Fort Sumner’s been there, with four straight titles from 2005 to 2008. Clovis too, with a five-peat from 1981 to 1985.
“It wasn’t something that we thought about,” said Larry Brooks, who played on three of the five-peat teams (1983-85). “It was a situation where it was fun for us to play football.
“Now, we look back 25 years and realize we were really good. We didn’t expect to be good. We just were.”
Now, looking back, Brooks knows why:
z Coaching matters. Eric Roanhaus is in his 33rd season at Clovis, and he needs two hands to count coaches on his staff that wore Wildcat purple.
Roybal in his 14th season, New Ram coach Mark McAfee has spent 19 years as an assistant. Matt Moyer, who led the Foxes to the 2008 title, played for Mario Martinez, who coached the Foxes to five titles in 10 seasons. Longtime assistant Dexter McDaniel took over and won the first three titles of the Fox four-peat.
The knowledge stays the same from the junior high coach all the way up to the varsity staff.
“It starts with coaching,” Brooks said. “You have to have the right coaching.”
z Talent’s a factor. Berry Stinnett, who won four state titles with Fort Sumner, is donning the green and silver at Eastern New Mexico University. Clint Barnard, who helped the Buffaloes win their last two titles, is now getting reps at New Mexico Highlands.
“You saw Clint last year,” Roybal said. “He looked like a college athlete already.”
z So is chemistry, and it helps to be in a small school such as Fort Sumner or Melrose — close enough to Clovis to have big-city conveniences, far enough away that kids grow up with little else to do on Friday night.
Clovis even has the feeling of a small school, with just one 11-man team in the city and two hours away from another Class 5A program. Albuquerque, by comparison, has 10, Las Cruces has three and even Rio Rancho has a pair.
“In Albuquerque, there are thousands of things to do,” Brooks said. “In a town like Clovis, you hung out with your teammates. You worked on plays.”
The closeness mattered when Brooks played. He said the Wildcats were an extended family, and he started playing with most when he was in seventh grade.
z Luck plays a role as well. Clovis’ chance to upset Eldorado in the 2008 Class 5A semifinals ended when a punt headed for the end zone took an L-turn and sailed out of bounds at the 1. Longtime Clovis coach Eric Roanhaus would have more state championships if not for missed field goals and extra points, but maybe less if the Wildcats hadn’t succeeded on late-game gambles (Roanhaus won his first title in 1978 on a fourth-and-goal rush when a field goal would have tied matters).
Luck also comes out in injuries. The hard hit either knocks the wind out of a player or cracks a rib. The guy who lands awkwardly can roll his ankle and miss the second half, or tear his ACL and miss the season.
Roybal said that’s an area where the Buffaloes can’t afford to be unlucky. Daylon Dial was his starting quarterback before an arm injury, and only 10 players are back from last year’s squad.
z After a while, it is simply tradition.
“Winning breeds winning,” Roybal said. “These kids have been in the program before. They know we’re not changing anything.”
Brooks said it’s also big to have a program — and one that covers all the bases. He lives in Albuquerque and said he never knew how good the Clovis Booster Club was until he saw Albuquerque high school athletes holding fundraisers left and right.
“You can have some talent for one year and win,” Brooks said. “But to consistently win, you need a program.”
Area football teams that have won two or more state titles in a row (since NMMA was formed in 1950):
• Clovis (1981-85)
• Fort Sumner (2005-08)
• Melrose (2008-09)
• Texico (2003-04)
• Fort Sumer (2001-02)
• Fort Sumenr (1997-98)
• Clovis (1990-91)
• Clovis (1977-78)