Yes, you could say Rio Rancho has become spoiled, especially when it comes to high school football.
Here’s your proof: Over the last nine seasons (2011-19), a city team has played for the 6A championship seven times, with five titles between them — Cleveland (2011, ‘15 and ’19) and Rio Rancho (’14 and ’16). Cleveland, which beat the Rams last November in an all-city title showdown, also played for all the marbles in 2018, but lost to visiting La Cueva.
And, as much as it’s a team game, the city has produced some outstanding players who have gone on to play Division 1 football: Cole Gautsche, Reece White, Gabe Ortega, Romell Jordan, Henry Hattis, Desmond Branch, Hayden Wilson and Marcus Williams (Cleveland), and Grant Hermanns, Zack Rogers and Josh Foley (RRHS). Gautsche, Ortega and Foley were state winners of Gatorade Player of the Year honors.
Add two more to that list, albeit one of them probably waiting until the 2022 season to be at the D-1 level. Those would be the latest two Gatorade Football Players of the Year in New Mexico.
True, nobody saw this novel coronavirus coming – and, true again, it’s making pretty much everyone change their lives.
Such is the case for two multi-sport Rio Rancho senior student-athletes, who, like almost everyone in the Class of 2020, were looking forward to winding down their high school days with things like the prom, finals and more, followed by commencement and celebratory parties.
Today, it’s hard to imagine commencement exercises in Santa Ana Star Center — 500 or so graduates seated on the floor, a couple thousand friends and family members seated above them.
Nonetheless, Rio Rancho High School’s Isaiah Chavez and Cleveland High’s Dorian Lewis — the state’s Gatorade Players of the Year for 2019 and ’18, respectively — have something else on their proverbial plates: playing college football in the fall.
Their numbers were exceptional
Chavez (2019): Passed for 2,006 yards and 22 touchdowns; ran for 1,407 yards and 21 TDs. In the Rams’ 48-40 loss to visiting Cleveland in the 6A championship game, he rushed for 198 yards and four TDs. He was the 6A Player of the Year, wrapping up his high school stats with 4,243 passing yards, 2,268 rushing yards and 77 touchdowns.
Lewis (2018): Rushed for 1,583 yards and 20 touchdowns as the Storm (12-1) reached the Class 6A state championship game. Lewis tore the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his right knee early in the Storm’s ninth game and missed the rest of the season. He averaged 11.1 yards per carry and also caught four TD passes. In 2017, he gained 1,500 yards and ran for 15 scores as a sophomore at Andress High in El Paso.
By the way, Chavez and Lewis are two of the nicest guys you could meet; Chavez is quick to dish out a hug to opponents and their coaches on the court, and shake hands, at least, with the five opposing starters before a jump ball. Ditto for Lewis.
The city should be grateful that the duo’s parents moved them to the City of Vision, or Chavez would have helped take Volcano Vista to the 2019 championship game vs. Cleveland, and Lewis would be starring in El Paso, where he was a buddy — “He’s family,” he says — of Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones, if his mother didn’t bring her brood to Rio Rancho.
Playing in college
Chavez is signed to play for the University of New Mexico, while Lewis heads to Kansas — Coffeyville, specifically, site of a famous Dalton Gang bank robbery gone bad, and Coffeyville Community College.
Chavez told the Observer he’s been working out, “really just focusing more on strengthening my core, my shoulders, upper body stuff — and my legs as well.”
He was the Rams’ starting quarterback the past two seasons and was expected to be in the Lobos’ defensive backfield, although new Lobos assistant coach David Howes — for the past 11 seasons the Rams’ head coach — said he thinks Chavez can be in the mix for quarterback.
“Hopefully, he’s out running a little bit,” said Howes, the UNM safeties coach. “Our plan is for him to play quarterback — he can always play safety. Hopefully, he’s in the kitchen, eating a bit.
“I told him he needs to start working on some long-snapping as well — he did it for us all year long and he was really good,” Howes, happy to be concentrating on one position on the sidelines, added. Plus, Chavez played some defense, “every time we were inside the 20” and the opponents had the ball.
Chavez is encouraged by the thought of being under center again, knowing full well college defensive linemen and linebackers have quite a few pounds on the high school players at those positions.
“I liked it — I loved playing quarterback,” Chavez said. “There’s always a new challenge every day.”
His last two sports seasons ended the same way: with a loss to Cleveland — in the 6A state championship football game and in the first round of the 5A basketball tournament.
“It was a heartbreaking loss — losing (in football) and then getting knocked out by Cleveland,” Chavez said. “Playing against those Cleveland guys is always fun.”
“It’s OK,” Chavez said. “This whole quarantine stuff is getting kind of boring, with nothing over five people; you’ve got to be creative.”
Knowing his days in the RRHS hallways may be over, he’s anticipating his next adventure, which should start in the late summer as a UNM freshman.
“I don’t want to go in there thinking I’m going to be a redshirt,” he said, happy to be in the mix to play his first year. “Obviously, I don’t want to waste my first year. (But) there’s a possibility that I might redshirt; I’m also thinking I want to play.”
If Chavez gets some snaps at QB, there’s a good chance he’ll be handing off or passing to yet another former Gatorade Player of the Year in the state: Josh Foley, who recently transferred from New Mexico State to UNM. Howes said Foley has been seeing time at receiver, as well as running back, and could be a capable slot-receiver.
“(Foley) has been working his tail off and playing a lot of receiver,” Howes said. “It’s real neat to see him at practice. It’s nice to see Josh in the morning and reconnect.”
“I knew of him; we weren’t really friends or close at all,” Chavez said of the former Rams standout. “Him coming from the Aggies is pretty good.”
Number 2 on your program — in football and basketball — and No. 1 in your heart, Lewis says he’s “just staying focused; I’m not gonna lose sight of what I’m going up there to do. I’ve been working out. I’ve got a trainer. I’m doing a lot of footwork, core-work, jumping, and trying to get my explosion up there.”
Coffeyville “sent me a workout,” Lewis said, which contained nothing too challenging and mostly just more reps.
Like Chavez, he has a couple disappointments, namely losing in the basketball semifinals and apparently not being able to run track this spring.
“I was looking forward to it — the 100, relays, the long jump. I did it in El Paso,” he said. “But it is what it is. (And the team that beat the Storm in The Pit) Capital was a great team — we didn’t come into the game with everything we had.”
Lewis said he had been pushed toward playing for the Lobos: “A lot of people and friends were trying to get me up there, but at the end of the day it’s my decision,” he said, knowing the Red Ravens’ proclivity for advancing players into four-year colleges, most notably Virgina Tech — and nine former CCC players are now in the NFL. “That’s exactly why I’m going there.
“I’ve gotta go up there and work — they told me I’m gonna play,” he said.