Battered, bruised and again bested by superior Class 1A Southern Peaks League powers, Ignacio High School’s 2018 football campaign went probably about as casual prep-football fans would have unfortunately expected.
What most may have missed was that IHS put, more or less, a winning team on the field.
And with a little luck – and a lot more bodies – Bobcat football would have officially had its first winning season under ever-optimistic head coach Alfonso “Ponch” Garcia and first since Lupe Huerta’s 2013 team finished 6-3 overall and 3-2 in league.
Had former league member John Mall of Walsenburg not pulled off a fourth-quarter escape for the ages, and had revived rival Center not swiped an overtime win at IHS Field, Garcia’s group would have ended up 5-4, 2-2 last fall rather than 3-6, 1-3.
However, with only Dustin Sanchez, Lucas Roderick and Mike Archuleta lost to graduation, virtually all of last year’s team will return in 2019 ready to make a winning season a reality.
“I just love the commitment. Twenty-six have come in, and they keep coming,” said Garcia, 10-26 overall and 4-14 in conference since he took over for Huerta in 2015. “And, as coaches, we try to get even more excitement because it’s football time. They’ve been coming every day, going through all the torture we’re giving them, you know, so that says something just for the kids to come day in and day out.
“That’s what we’re preaching right now: Stay with what we’re doing. You’ve committed to something, so stay positive.”
On paper, it would be hard for the team not to be upbeat about their chances to help the program climb above the .500 mark, as most skill-position regulars are back in the fold. Quarterback Ian Weinreich returns for his senior season and second as starter, while juniors Lawrence Toledo and Dylan Labarthe again will offer production out of the backfield. Ditto for junior Joe Garcia, eager to make up for lost time after a nasty leg injury cost him the last six games of ’18.
Back from an off-field shoulder injury which also caused him to miss much of last season, senior receiver Colten Jackson returns as the Bobcats’ primary deep-ball threat, with sophomore Shawn Campbell ready to follow up on a promising debut year.
Senior Clay Campbell and sophomore Jeremy Roderick will again be counted upon to control action in the trenches, particularly with holes left by the elder Roderick, Archuleta and Sanchez, whose ball-carrying ability will also be missed.
“Without linemen, you don’t have a football squad; it doesn’t matter who it is,” Garcia said. “Everybody thinks the quarterback and running backs are your studs. Well, to me your studs are your front five; they’re the ones that dictate the game.
Garcia was proud to show off 10 good-sized linemen at practice Wednesday.
“And when you have 10 kids out there, it’s beautiful,” he said. “Last year we only had four or five; we had to grab a wide receiver and say,‘Today, you’re a lineman.’”
Weinreich is the veteran of the team and has command of the offense. Garcia also likes the weapons backing him up.
“We’ve got Gabe (Tucson), and we also have Teagan Roukema, so the competition is really good,” Garcia said. “They’re going to be the future, obviously. One of those kids is going to take over for him, and I’ll be honest, it’s really nice to have a backup, two backups, because before we only had one, and it was really tough.”
Having a weapon like Jackson to stretch the field is also a big help for the IHS passing game.
“Colten has been here since I’ve been here, so he understands what I’m expecting of him,” Garcia said. “And same thing with (Toledo); they showed up all summer to lift weights, and that shows big, big leadership on their part.”
Sophomore Tyler Barnes and newcomer John Riepel should provide extra backfield legs, along with promising addition Mekhi Miranda, one of a few unknowns already catching the coach’s eye.
“It’s really good to see the freshmen coming in and older kids adopting them,” said Garcia. “The nucleus is awesome.”
The Bobcats will then welcome 2A Newcomb, also of New Mexico, to town Sept. 6, then travel north to Leadville a week later to battle 1A Foothills member Lake County, which IHS blanked 41-0 in 2018. A Sept. 20 trip to John Mall then awaits Ignacio, with an Oct. 5 visit from (and special 2 p.m. start time against) 1A Tri-Peaks reps Colorado Springs Christian wrapping up non-conference play before the Bobcats invade Center on Oct. 11.
“We’re probably one of the smallest teams in our conference, not because of numbers but size-wise,” said Garcia. “I think most of our games we can compete in, and that’s the idea – try to put your kids where they can compete, feel good about themselves.
“Our schedule told us last year we can. We got blown up in a couple games and had to forfeit our last game because of numbers when we played Crownpoint,” he continued. “We competed with Newcomb at the beginning, and we competed with John Mall. We’re at that level right now, and I think we’ll be able to compete with those teams.
“But again, we’ve got to fix the wrinkles. And the commitment these kids are giving, so far it’s been good.”