“We’re starting a week earlier than normal, but that puts us at a disadvantage,” Cordova said. “Our school year also starts earlier here, so our practice starts the same week our school starts. We don’t get to have normal 2-a-days here.”
Another problem is numbers. There’s a lot of experience on the line – all sophomores and juniors that started last year – but no experience at the skill positions in the backfield. Cordova lost his son – quarterback Godfrey, Jr. – to graduation last year.
“Our numbers are down, but our strong point will be the offensive line,” said coach Cordova. “That’s where the experience is at. It’s going to be a rough two years until our kids grow up.”
There’s so much experience on the line, it’s junior tackle Kyle Yahnahki who calls the plays in the single wing offense. He also calls it in the native Apache tongue.
Yahnahki is one of several starters from a line that was thrown to the fire last year as underclassmen, including sophomore center Alex Kazhe-Kirgan, sophomore guard Des Cerantes, junior tackle Robert Geronimo and junior tight end Ariel Gallerito.
Junior Kalen Fernando has moved from wing to tailback, and joining him in the backfield is sophomore Dalton Hamilton, who will be a blocking back. Transferring in from Ruidoso is Dillon Perico, who will take over the quarterback duties.
“Dillon picked up the offense, but we’re having to simplify it. We’ve got a few pieces of the puzzle, but we don’t have a lot of depth,” Cordova said. “The offense isn’t finesse, but it’s a little trickery. We’ll just line up and try to beat you.”
Cordova hopes to have about 20 kids, which is a tiny percentage compared to the numbers that the Chiefs’ opponents will field this year. That’s why Cordova has scheduled four junior varsity teams before Mescalero ever sees a 1A varsity opponent.
“People ask why I’ve scheduled all these JV teams, but I don’t think we’re ready to play 1A varsity right now,” Cordova said. “Still, we’re not playing down. The kids on some of these teams are huge, and we’re trying to play kids at a same skill level as us.”
The district has also changed a bit. Gone is defending state champion Mesilla Valley – moved up to Class 2A – and entering is Cloudcroft, a team that Mescalero beat 33-8 last year.
But that doesn’t mean Mescalero can take the Bears – or any team – for granted this year.
“This will be a learning experience for us,” Cordova said. “We don’t have someone that will hit the hole and bounce off a lot of tacklers. It will be all about ball control.”