Veteran Storm QB Evan Wysong spots a receiver. (Herron photo)

It’s long been a tradition for high school football teams: 7-on-7 competitions, giving quarterbacks and their receivers plenty of opportunities to find out more about each other, while giving the teams work for their defensive backfields.Meanwhile, as the 7-on-7 “games” go on, offensive and defensive linemen are challenged with weightlifting, 1-on-1s and tugs of war.
Here’s an interesting fact as the City of Vision teams prepare for their 2022 openers —Aug. 19 at 7 p.m. for both: Centennial at Cleveland, La Cueva at Rio Rancho — since the Storm’s inaugural season (2009), they’ve had primarily only seven quarterbacks, while the Rams have had 11.
Since Travis Lonergan’s lone season (2009), every Storm QB has played at least two seasons: Cole Gautsche (2010-11), Kian Homme (2012-13), Gabe Ortega (2014-15), Angelo Trujillo (2016-17), Jeff Davison (2018-20) and Evan Wysong (2021-22).
That experience has paid off for Cleveland, with state championships for returning QBs in 2011, ’15 and ’19, as well as Gatorade Player of the Year honors for Gautsche and Ortega.
Meanwhile, the Rams are going to their fourth quarterback in as many seasons this fall: junior Noah Nelson is the likely candidate; sophomore JJ Arellano and junior Dominic Valencia could get time there, too.
“Whoever it is, we’ve got young guys (there),” first-year RRHS head coach Nate Pino said, knowing in each of the past three seasons a senior has been under center.
Here are the Rams’ QBs since the Storm started playing: Tyler Baker (2007-09), Tim Foley (2010), Jason Fitzpatrick (2011), Easton Bruere (2012-14), Nic Little (2016), Logan Bruere (2017), Isaiah Chavez (2018-19), Joey Cave (2020) and Dominick Priddy (2021).
The Rams won championships in’14 and ’16, and had one Gatorade Player of the Year, Chavez (2019).
Rams are ‘working their butts off’
“It’s not too, too important, but it’s a good opportunity to get a lot of reps,” Pino said of 7-on-7s. “We’ve had a bunch of good experiences and some so-so experiences, but just keep building to learn, both about football and how to react to things. How to react to stunts …”
The Rams graduated four offensive linemen, certainly a negative factor or any offense, especially one with a new quarterback, although Nelson saw some playing time in 2021.
As usual, expectations are high – and why not, after back-to-back appearances in the state championship game?
The Rams had only three losses in the 15 games they played in calendar year 2021, which included four 2020 season games slated for March and April of ’21. It should be noted here all three of those losses were to Cleveland, although a missed field goal in their Oct. 29 meeting would have turned one of the losses into a W.
“We’re in a good spot. Our kids are bustin’ their butts in the weight room and on the field, and we’re in a good spot to be successful.”
This will be the eighth time in the past nine seasons with a senior starter, with only Isaiah Chavez (2018-19) having back-to-back seasons as starting QB; Easton Bruere (2012-14) and Tyler Baker (2007-09) were rare three-year QB starters for the Rams.
Storm warning they’ll be ready to defend ’21 title
“Summer’s been great,” said the city’s other first-year head coach, Robert Garza. “We’ve got 180 kids in the program, coming out every day, working hard. We’ve gotten better.”
Reading that should be scary for the Storm’s opponents. Cleveland takes a 22-game winning streak into the coming season and already — for what it’s worth — has been proclaimed the best team in New Mexico by MaxPreps.
“The kids are buying in to what we’re doing. They’re starting to understand; there’s not a lot of things that are different in the program, just a few tweaks here and there.”
Garza said his offensive line will be young, with two sophomores, but “they’ve got to grow, figure things out. They’ve got some guys around them, though, that are going to help them figure it out and they’re gonna be just fine.”
Longtime local assistant Brandon Darlington, a former tight end at Syracuse who once assisted at RRHS, is now the offensive line coach for the Storm.
“Coach Darlington’s got these guys coming off the ball. They play hard — so you’re going to see that from those guys,” Garza said.
The line will have a talented backfield to block and open holes: Wysong loves to run, Josh Perry is back from a collarbone injury that kept him out much of last season, and junior Andres Aguirre, a transfer from Albuquerque High, will be a welcome addition to the backfield. Aguirre ran for more than 100 yards in the Bulldogs’ loss to la Cueva last season.
“We’ve got some packages for him,” Garza said, for the junior, with Perry moving around to slot and elsewhere as a target for Wysong, who loves tossing the pigskin to fellow senior Nic Trujillo.
“We’ve got weapons on offense, we’ve just got to figure out a way to get the ball into their hands,” Garza added.
“Defensively, we’re kinda counting on our linebackers to carry the defense early on,” he said, touting juniors Stratton Shufelt and Isaac Medrano, and seniors Westin Jones and Javis Garcia in the 3-4 defense. “There’s a few new faces in the secondary, so we’re gonna have to help them get comfortable.”
Truthfully, with defensive coordinator Eddie Kilmer, who’s worked closely with Garza in that department for the last dozen or so years, defense won’t be a big problem.
Gridiron gossip: This is the first season since 2009 when both schools have a new head coach to start the season; Kirk Potter was CHS’s head coach in its inaugural season, while Dave Howes was starting what became an 11-year stint at RRHS.
… Former Rams assistant Chris Howe, on Howes’ staff from 2014-18, is the new head coach at Cibola.
… Taking advantage of the NIL (name, image, likeness) opportunity afforded by the NCAA, Chavez can be seen shilling for America’s Mattress. What did he receive for that? A mattress.
… Former Rams lineman is an assistant coach for former Rams assistant Howard Knezevich, now head coach at Atrisco Heritage Academy.
… The Rams are without a slogan thus far, with Pino still mulling some traditions; “Stay the course” for now, he says. The Storm have one word on their T-shirts: “Punish.”
… Joe Abeyta of Sports Primo is about to complete another CHS football video. Abeyta has posted a summer 2022 workout video that can be viewed on his Facebook page.