By Karl Terry
New Portales High football coach Mark McAfee believes numbers and enthusiasm are going to help his team grow and improve this season.
With 52 players out and all of them eager to compete, McAfee said the first week of practice progressed well even though his coaching staff was still tweaking and tinkering with schemes and rotations Friday evening.
“The attitude that all the kids have is great,” McAfee said Friday. “We’re only four days into it, but we’re knocking each other down and then helping one another right back up. We’re becoming a cohesive unit and that’s exciting.”
The Rams, who started practice on Monday, conducted an intrasquad scrimmage on Saturday. They will host Lubbock Roosevelt on Friday in a scrimmage at their practice field in Portales.
The freshmen and junior varsity start at 3 p.m. with the varsity following at approximately 4:30 p.m.
Roosevelt is coached by PHS graduate Greg Poynor. McAfee said he went to school with Poynor and is looking forward to meeting his old friend on the field.
Following a strategy session with his coaches Friday, McAfee admitted he felt fortunate to have the staff he has as his team transitions from the Andy Correll era. He said their combination of experience is working well for the team.
“There’s always a learning curve,” said McAfee, a 17-year assistant who took the reins when Correll led this summer for a coaching position at Vernon, Texas. “We’ve got to do a good job of getting across to the kids the things we want to tell them.”
There’s welcome competition at the quarterback position between senior J.J. Collins, who started at the position in the last four games of last year’s 3-8 season, and junior Phoenix Russell. Russell sat last season out with an ACL injury but appears ready to go this fall, according to McAfee.
Likewise in the backfield, four running backs are contending for starting positions in what will often be a two-back set. Juniors Wyatt Legler and Collin McAfee along with seniors Stephen Shields and Miguel Arbarca are all getting touches in an offense that will likely emphasize the running game a little more than last season.
“Numbers breed good competition,” McAfee said.
With as many as six players weighing in at more than 200 pounds, McAfee says size won’t be a big issue for his team. The Rams carry a schedule where big, quick linemen are necessary for a team’s survival.
“I would say our defensive and offensive lines are going to be our strength,” he said.
On defense, the numbers play in Portales’ favor with the ability to platoon fresh players onto the field throughout the game.
“Defensively, what we’re looking to do is really fly to the football,” McAfee said. “I would like to have as many as 10 players rotating. I think we may be able to do that.”
Offensive coordinator Chris Bachicha said the team had a good week of practice.
“The kids are very enthusiastic,” Bachicha said. “They’re working their tails off. You can teach a lot of things, but you can’t really teach hustle. I think that is really going to pay off for us.”