Getting off to an early start
If the Estancia High School football players didn't quite comprehend what the military-originated colloquialism "zero dark thirty" meant before, they certainly understand it now.
In the wee hours of the morning of Aug. 8, the Bears conducted a motivating, just-after-midnight practice on Bob Bell Field to start out early with a 1 1/2-hour workout during the first day New Mexico Activities Association rules allowed prep teams to be in full gear, including pads.
It wasn't just for show, with EHS second-year coach Stewart Burnett running his boys through a hard-hitting stint of the Oklahoma Drill. It's a 3-on-3 that begins with opposing contingents on their back, the ball carrier at the rear, and then upon the blowing of the whistle, a quick rising to their feet and a subsequent crash of bodies.
"This is the strongest team I've ever worked with," said Burnett, who included his time spent as a Moriarty assistant. "Sometimes with subjective criteria, people can argue with you, but with weightlifting it's all about numbers. The numbers don't lie, and this team, by far, is the strongest team I've ever had."
The Bears also did some 11-on-11 scrimmaging on Aug. 8 wherein their first-string offense, including quarterback Clay Cabber, dominated a youthful defensive unit.
"This season feels a lot better because we have a full year under our belt with the coaches," said Cabber, who was recently named as a senior co-captain along with Joshua Jaquez and Eric Newsom. "We're working hard. We've been out there for 6:30-in-the-morning practices. I think we're going to have a great season."
Estancia will continue to run the Wing-T offense. Senior Xavier Archibeque returns as the starting center.
"The schemes will be pretty much the same," Burnett said. "But this year, we want to give the ball to Josh (Jaquez) a lot more. We want to have him run the ball twice as much as he did last year."
Jaquez, a halfback and strong safety, said he knows he'll have to have a gut check every game.
"I've got to be able to push through it," he said. "I need to work hard in practice. I need to be ready for it. But we are a lot better this year. It's going to be a great season, but we have a lot of freshmen and sophomores, a lot of talent that needs to step up."
Newsom's face lit up when it was noted that he looked like he was having fun on the field during the midnight practice.
"It's my last year," said the two-way lineman. "I just want to get out there and get after it. I'm ready for the season to begin."
Indeed, the season's start is right around the corner. The Class 2A Bears host 4A St. Pius, 3A Hope Christian and 2A Tularosa for a preseason scrimmage at 10 a.m. on Aug. 24.
Estancia will then open at 3A Shiprock on Aug. 30. The Bears' first home game will be against 2A Hatch Valley on Sept. 6, and their homecoming contest will be Sept. 20 versus 1A Capitan.
"I think our strength is our work ethic…," Burnett said. "But I think leadership is a concern for us. Clay is as good a leader as there is, and Josh and Eric are effective leaders, too. But we need some of the other seniors to step up, too. They can't pull the wagon all by themselves."
Estancia (4-6, 0-4 in District 2-2A last year) will again face a tough district lineup of Santa Rosa (reigning state champion), Texico (state semifinalist) and Clayton and Tucumcari (state quarterfinalists).
"Our district is brutal," said Burnett, who will also act as offensive coordinator and coach the offensive line and defensive backs. "Hands down, it's the toughest in 2A."
Burnett's varsity and junior varsity coaching staffs, with the exception of team trainer and JV defensive coordinator Bruce Dile, are all Moriarty High transplants. They include Eric Lucero, defensive coordinator and running backs/linebackers coach; J.C. Batts, special-teams coordinator and defensive-line coach; Leslie Gaztambide, JV offensive coordinator; and Justin Shanley, assistant offensive line/defensive backs coach.
Estancia Middle School's team will be coached by Richard Walker. Scott Georgia will be his assistant.
"For us to be competitive in our district, we have to be one of the best teams in the state," Burnett said. "And to win our district, we have to be at least in the top two or three in the state. But that's right at the level we want to be."
The players are aware it's going to be a tough row to hoe.
"We just need to be ready for every game, stay in focus, and just have fun out there," Cabber said.
Note: Gabe Sedillo, a recent EHS graduate, said he will be walking on the Eastern New Mexico University football team.
"I'm going to start in March during spring practice," said the Bears' 6-foot-4, 170-pound All-District first-team wide receiver and cornerback.