2018 Fall sports preview: Taos Tigers football

By Arcenio J. Trujillo, The Taos News
Posted 8/19/18

An emphasis on defense will be a major focus for the Taos Tigers. The fitness level of the players will be a key to success as well as players will be called upon to play the majority of minutes on both sides of the ball.

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2018 Fall sports preview: Taos Tigers football

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Taos Tigers at a glance

Colors: Black, orange, white

Helmet: black matte with orange tiger paw logo

Head Coach: Art Abreu Jr. (fourth year; 19-15, .559 career win percentage)

2017 overall record: 8-4

District 2-4A record: 3-3

District 2/5-4A teams: Bernalillo Spartans, Grants Pirates, Española Valley Sundevils, Pojoaque Valley Elks, St. Pius X (Albuquerque) Sartans, Taos Tigers

Top Players:

Justin Good; senior (5 foot-9, 160-lb), quarterback, defensive back. Due to an injury that kept Good on the sidelines for much of the season last year, not much is known about his strengths and style. Look for the senior leader to use his legs to pound the ball forward, but with targets, such as Anthony Maestas and Aiden Leblanc, several pass attempts in a game could be seen on any given Friday.

Dominic "Red" Lopez; senior (6 foot-1, 300-lbs), offensive and defensive lineman. Lopez returns to lead a veteran line who will again be tasked with bulldozing opponents in both directions. Along with Tyler Gomez, who takes over ball-snapping duties for all-district center, Amos Duran, Lopez will be relied upon to create space for Taos' powerful running game.

Estevan Valerio; senior (5 foot-9, 170-lbs), offensive lineman, middle linebacker. One of the intangible traits Valerio brings to the team is his uncanny ability to know where the ball is - and to be in its vicinity at all times. This makes the seasoned veteran a pesky and versatile defender who can land hard hits, tip passes, cause fumbles and run down ball carriers anywhere on the field.

Aiden Leblanc; senior (6 foot-4, 215-lbs), tight end, defensive end. As a junior, LeBlanc was a prolific tackler. He led the Tigers in sacks with 11 total on the season, garnering him an all-district nod--the only junior on the team to acquire the distinction - in 2017. Opposing quarterbacks should be wary of the hard-charging giant coming off the end who will undoubtedly cause a visual disruption for out routes and screen passes.

Jonathan Garcia; senior (5 foot-8, 155-lbs), running back, safety. Garcia was used as a workhorse and accumulated 1,600-yards on the ground last year. Expect the Tigers to get the ball into the hands of the very quick Garcia, who seeks and finds swaths of open field with his great vision.

Other Key Players:

Tyler Gomez, senior (5 foot-11, 230-lbs), offensive and defensive lineman; Anthony Maestas, senior (5 foot-9, 160-lbs), wide receiver and safety; Isaiah Martinez, senior (6 foot-2, 230-lbs), offensive and defensive lineman, Angel Limas, junior (5 foot-9, 170-lbs), wide receiver, kicker, Brian Moraga, senior (5 foot-6, 185-lbs), running back, defensive end.

2018 Outlook:

The Tigers lost 12 players to graduation from last year's team.

Five of those players were key contributors and provided leadership on both sides of the ball. Jude Suazo, Santiago "Saint" Cortez, Mateo Sisneros, Amos Duran and Shane Martinez were impact players and were aptly rewarded with all-district accolades and an invite to the North-South all-star game in Albuquerque this past June.

The age-out of these players in these key positions will create a bit of a vacuum for a short period, but the veterans returning from last year's state quarterfinal team should fill in adequately to produce points on offense and hold their turf on defense. A changing of the guards at quarterback will see a stout Justin Good lead a powerful trio of backs that will allow Taos to keep the ball on the ground--thus, improving the Tigers' turnover ratio from a year ago. Sixteen turnovers during a three-game stretch directly affected the outcome of important district games against Robertson, St. Mike's and West Las Vegas and wound up costing the Tigers a shot at the league title.

An emphasis on defense, however, will be a major focus for the Tigers, whose teams gave up big plays during that stretch and in the quarterfinal game in Portales. Another key to success for Abreu and his staff will be the fitness level of his players who will be called upon to play the majority of minutes on both sides of the ball. Fourteen seniors and 12 juniors on the roster help the Tigers.

As they retain more athletes, the "buy in" takes hold and important aspects of the team such as physical, mental and emotional commitments thrive. Taos' kicking game will produce lots of points as well.

2018 Season Football Schedule

(X) - denotes District 2/5-4A game

Bold - denotes Home game

Aug. 25, at St. Michael's (Santa Fe), 1:30 p.m.

Aug. 31, Los Alamos, 7 p.m. (Home opener)

Sept. 7, Aztec, 7 p.m.

Sept. 14, at Santa Fe High, 7 p.m.

Sept. 21, BYE WEEK

Sept. 28, Capital (Santa Fe), 7 p.m.

Oct. 5, at Grants (X), 7 p.m. (District opener)

Oct. 12, Española (X), 7 p.m. (Homecoming)

Oct. 20, at St. Pius (Albuquerque) (X), 7 p.m.

Oct. 26, Pojoaque Valley (X), 7 p.m.

Nov. 2. at Bernalillo (X), 7 p.m.

Mark your calendar:

Taos opens the 2018 season Aug. 25 against the St. Michael's Horsemen, who beat the Tigers 41-21 at home in a disappointing district rout that resulted in an injury to quarterback Jude Suazo.

In his three years at the helm, Abreu has yet to defeat the horsemen, but is 2-1 in career season openers and is determined to extend this streak and end the St. Mike's drought. A win to start the season on the road will surely boost the confidence of a hungry squad who is slated to take on three Class-5A teams before the start of the district season.

Despite moving upward to a new district, the Tigers are poised to finish at the top in league standings, making the game against St. Pius a possible grudge match for District 2/5-4A supremacy. Fans are encouraged to make the trip to Albuquerque to cheer on the Tigers, who have traditionally struggled against the large private school.

Another game to keep an eye on is the Santa Fe High School game on the road Sept. 14. The Demons are currently in the throes of a 33-game losing streak and will be looking to end the skid.

If a turnaround is due, this might be the year for it to happen. The Tigers need to make sure they don't chalk that one up as an automatic win.

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