The Clovis Wildcats have won 13 state football championships, 10 of them under coach Eric Roanhaus. In Stefan Mills’ mind, they won it in 2007 hundreds of times.
Last December, Mills and his Clovis teammates were on the short end of a 49-48, double-overtime loss to Mayfield — a loss so close Mills mentally catalogued countless plays and their roles in tipping the scales towards the Trojans.
“Every time you think about the game, it’s just one different thing,” Mills said. “You think if you did this or that better, things turn out different. We would have won every time (in my mind). It just keeps fluctuating.”
What doesn’t fluctuate is the Wildcats’ desire to again reach that first weekend in December, when football games decide state championships.
“Naturally, we want to win the championship, win the district championship and get better as the year goes on,” Clovis assistant Darren Kelley said. “Most people in town would expect that from us.”
The journey to December includes three trips to Albuquerque and eight battles against 2007 playoff teams, starting with Friday’s 7 p.m. home opener against Alamogordo.
The time for improvement, Kelley said, starts now.
“A lot of times, you’re going to make your improvements between your first and second game,” Kelley said. “Hopefully, we make a big jump between our scrimmage, and then make a big jump for the second game.”
Clovis is coming off a scrimmage against top-ranked Las Cruces with mixed results. Kelley said the Wildcats weren’t great defensively in goal-line situations, but plenty of credit goes to the Bulldawgs, who are returning a pair of 1,000-yard rushers in quarterback Dante Caro and running back James Hall.
In the open field, Mills, a 5-foot-11, 175-pound free safety and running back, said the defense was much better.
“I was really pleased with our defense,” Mills said. “We held probably one of the better offensive teams in the state to two touchdowns on 84 plays.”
For the new players — and there are plenty, with Clovis returning three starters on defense and one on offense — it was an introduction to game speed.
“It opened their eyes up,” said senior defensive back and running back Scott McMath. “It’s not JV or C-team. It’s a lot faster, harder-hitting game than it is on the lower levels.”
With plenty of new varsity members, and back-to-back trips to Albuquerque early (Sept. 5 at Eldorado, Sept. 12 at Highland), Mills is expecting a rough start simliar to the 2007 season.
Likewise, he expects a strong finish.
“Last year’s team made that adjustment really well,” Mills said of the 2007 squad’s 3-3 start and ensuing six-game winning streak. “We took it upon ourselves and stepped up our work ethic, and look what happened. This team has to do the same thing.”
Kelley, Mills and McMath all agree — not playing in December is falling short.
The motivation is never far away, as McMath just needs to look at banners in the high school and billboards throughout the city, celebrating past Clovis champions he wants this incarnation of Wildcat football to replicate.
“It’s motivating,” McMath said. “You’ve got to understand how hard they worked to get it, and we’ve got to work that hard as well.”
Aug. 29 Alamogordo Leon Williams Stadium@
Sept. 5 Eldorado Wilson Stadium
Sept. 12 Highland Milne Stadium
Sept. 19 La Cueva Leon Williams Stadium
Sept. 26 Rio Rancho Leon Williams Stadium
Oct. 3 Goddard Wool Bowl
Oct. 10 Cibola Milne Stadium
Oct. 17 Artesia (Homecoming) Leon Williams Stadium
Oct. 24 Carlsbad* Ralph Bowyer Stadium
Oct. 31 Bye
Nov. 7 Hobbs* Leon Williams Stadium
All Games 7 p.m. x-Denotes District 4-5A opponent
@ — Alternate site of Greyhound Stadium if artificial turf conversion is not completed at Leon Williams Stadium.