The Taos Tiger football team traded their uniforms for bow ties and slacks Sunday (Jan. 27) to celebrate and honor one another together with their coaches, families and members of the community at their end-of-season 4A State Championship Awards Banquet sponsored by the Taos High School Booster Club, Olguin's Sawmill & Firewood, the Wanda Lucero Agency and The Taos News.
Jo Jo Valdez served as Master of Ceremonies. Dr. Rev. Ted Wiard offered words of inspiration, applauding the Tigers for being "humble enough to surrender to the situation and drive through."
Anakaela Trujillo, who sang the national anthem at every home game of the season, offered a lovely rendition of the same before attendees took their plates to the buffet line to be filled with prime rib.
Head coach Art Abreu Jr. began by thanking some of the people without whom it wouldn't be possible to run a football program, including: Davette Sanchez; Victor M. Cardenas of facilities, who he credited with keeping their kids safe; Eugene (Geno) Chavez of facilities; Honario (Odie) Salazar of facilities; and Ronny Salazar, Sr., bus driver, who is always able to fix the bus when it acts up and, no matter whether they won or lost, told coach Abreu, "It looked beautiful, Coach," after every game, earning himself honorary coach status and one of the team's state medals. Abreu also thanked trainer Camille Rivera and called her "without a doubt one of the reasons we are where we are today."
Rather than select players who spent a certain amount of time playing varsity to letter, coach Abreu awarded a letter to every player who showed up and put their time, energy and heart into every practice and every game - to everyone who sacrificed their "summers and vacation time in order to get better." You can therefore expect to see a whole team of letterman's jackets, including for the manager Alfredo Cruz and the ball boys Jerome Martinez and Ryan Montoya.
Danny Gonzales, who thanked the team for fulfilling his dreams of announcing a state championship game and a Tiger championship game, thanked numerous members of the community on the behalf of the team.
Coach Abreu then returned to the microphone and thanked his coaching staff: Eric Welch, Tom Good Jr., Miguel Lucero, Ramon Abreu and "the best man" he knows, his father Art Abreu Sr.
The presentation of awards then turned to the players.
Eric Montoya, Max Meadowcroft and Alejandro Gonzales.
Second Team All-District
Santiago Salazar, Clayton Demas and Brian Moraga
4A District 2 All-District Players
Justin Good (quarterback), Angel Limas (receiver), Tyler Gomez (offensive guard), Dominic Lopez (offensive tackle), Aidan Leblanc (defensive lineman), Adam Vigil (linebacker), Estevan Valerio (linebacker) Brian Moraga (linebacker).
District 2-4A Offensive Player of the Year
4A All-State Players
Estevan Valerio (middle linebacker), Adam Vigil (outside linebacker), Jonathan Garcia (running back), Brian Moraga (linebacker), Justin Good (quarterback), Angel Limas (cornerback), Aidan Leblanc (defensive end and "the biggest point getter" in the whole state), Santiago Salazar (center), Isaiah Martinez (defensive tackle), Dominic "Red" Lopez (nose tackle), Tyler Gomez (offensive guard)
(These positions are as announced at the banquet rather than the more general positions listed on the New Mexico High School Coaches Association website.)
Teammate of the Year
Rick Fisher, who "displays endless sacrifice to this program" and "never missed a day of practice, even if sick or upset."
Scout Team Player of the Year
Matt Suazo, who was utterly unwilling to quit.
Max Meadowcroft, someone who doesn't miss practice, who "doesn't say anything if he's mad, upset or happy," and is "the most coachable guy."
Jason Salazar, who initially had trouble getting his body to do what he wanted it to do and is now "quite fast."
From every 3A, 4A, 5A and 6A team in the state, 40 players were selected. Seven of those players were from 4A schools. Taos players Aidan Leblanc, Tyler Gomez, Dominic Lopez and Jonathan Garcia represent four of those seven slots.
Offensive Player of the Year
Justin Good, who "gave all four years of his heart and his body."
Defensive Player of the Year
Brian Moraga, of whom coach Abreu said, "He made me better just by being in my life."
Most Valuable Player
"There's only one reason we're getting sized for rings," coach Abreu said, and that's the Taos Tiger Offensive and Defensive Lines: Isaiah Martinez, Aidan Leblanc, Noah Armijo, Dominic Lopez, Clayton Demas, Santiago Salazar, Tyler Gomez and Estevan Valerio.
"What happened on that goal line Dec. 1 plays in my mind every day."
The banquet closed with speeches by both coach Abreu Sr. and Abreu Jr.
Art Abreu Sr. thanked everybody in the town of Taos "for opening your arms to my family." He shared insights into what it's like to be in a coaching family and praised the Taos players who "didn't get into society's shortcomings."
He closed his speech by saying, "I leave my son in your hands - please support."
Coach Abreu Jr. expressed gratitude to many, telling that he'd spent the past month wondering "How do I put into words what's in my heart?"
He told the assembled that he wouldn't change a single memory of his time in Taos. To the seniors he said, "I challenge you seniors to be better than what you have seen and to support those who are trying to be like you or who are trying to be better than you."
He gave time and attention to individuals who support the team and to the members of his family, in particular his mother, father, grandmother, great-grandfather and his wife, Chloe.
Coach Abreu closed by telling his team, "Everyone will see you, the rest of your life, as champions."