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Things didn’t finish off very well for the Los Alamos Hilltopper football team in 2007.
This season, however, things started to look up even before preseason practices officially began.
Los Alamos had approximately 50 players come out regularly for its summer workouts and got a lot of weight room and conditioning work done. That extra work allowed the Hilltoppers to install a whole new offensive look.
In 2007, Los Alamos reeled off eight straight wins, but lost two of its last three contests, including what for all intents and purposes was the District 2AAAA championship game against Capital and in the first round of the state tournament to Moriarty.
The Hilltoppers finished the season 9-2 and were runners-up in district, which they felt they should’ve won going away.
Los Alamos head coach Bob Scott, returning for his 19th season, said those two losses, particularly the 37-0 drubbing in front of the home crowd his team took at the hands of Moriarty’s Pintos, left a bad taste in the Hilltoppers’ mouths.
That’s why Scott suspects the turnout was so good during the summer workouts.
The Hilltoppers get their season going Saturday. They play an afternoon road game against the St. Michael’s Horsemen.
In the previous 16 games against the Horsemen, the Hilltoppers have gone 12-4, but the Horsemen are the defending state Class AAA champs and would like nothing better than to follow up their season-opening win over Bloomfield by knocking off the Hilltoppers at Brother Abdon Field.
“They’ve got good kids,” Scott said. “They have a couple of kids with good speed and their fullbacks run hard.”
The Horsemen kept things pretty simple against Bloomfield, running mostly out of the pro-I or slot-I in the 20-19 win.
Los Alamos doesn’t plan to keep things very simple, however. While Scott said the team will probably start working its offense out of the double-tight end set it featured last season, it will roll out a modified spread formation, moving tight ends out to split positions and having flankers out wide.
Has Los Alamos then abandoned its signature running game? Hardly.
“Our spread look is to give the illusion that we’re going to the spread,” Scott said. “We’ll run out of that. We have the same line splits but we’re moving guys out making some different running lanes.”
Feature back Raul Rodriguez, one of the top ground-gainers in the state last season, returns for his senior year. Rodriguez believes he has what it takes to play Division-I college football — and some college scouts have shown interest — and is motivated to post more big numbers.
Last season, Rodriguez ran for 240 yards against Albuquerque Academy, which ranks as the 22nd best individual rushing performance in state history. He would run for 211 yards in about three quarters in Los Alamos’ 95-0 blowout against Bernalillo a few weeks later.
Behind 240-pound freshman center Nate Robbins — whom Scott has spoken about fairly glowingly as he takes over for collegiate signee Eric Carlson — is senior Zach Mang.
Mang takes over for the outgoing Jeremy Kasik. While Mang has previously played backup quarterback, the number of reps for the four-year varsity starter have been limited.
Like a lot of the Hilltoppers, though, Mang put in a lot of work during the summer and should be ready to lead the offense from Saturday’s first series.
“He’s the right guy for the job,” Scott said. “He’s got size, he’s got speed and he’s pretty smart. He seems to be able to handle things well and he likes to run the football.”
The spread formation dictates Mang will have to tote the ball at least occasionally under normal conditions, but Scott said the team is installing some options and rollouts that will have Mang running several times per game.
In addition to the running duties, Los Alamos has put in several timing routes to throw out of the spread. Scott said Mang and his receivers were getting their timing down well, and were even working out some longer-range throws.
Defensively, Los Alamos got a big boon in the secondary. Corey Clark, a ball-hawking defensive back who posted nine interceptions two seasons ago, has returned to Los Alamos from Colorado Springs, Colo.
At Rampart High School in Colorado Springs, Clark picked off 11 passes, which would’ve set a new Los Alamos High School record.
Los Alamos’ secondary was suspect in several games last season, particularly against Capital, which took advantage of the absence of safety Matt Zocco, but Clark should have an immediate impact at the left cornerback spot.
Senior Zak Walterscheid looked strong in a preseason scrimmage against Aztec as he takes over the middle linebacker spot vacated by All-Stater and Division-I player Ruben Martinez. Austin Wolstein, whom Scott plans to jump around from defensive end to defensive tackle, was also impressive in the preseason.
Following Saturday’s game, Los Alamos has nine games in nine consecutive weeks — most prep teams in the state started play last weekend — which is fine with Scott, who isn’t crazy about open dates during the season.
The Hilltoppers will face a once-again rebuilding Santa Fe squad Sept. 12 — Santa Fe’s Demons were waxed by Aztec 56-6 last week — before their home opener Sept. 19 against Silver. Silver was disappointing in its first week, losing 9-6 to Cobre.
Artesia, the defending state Class AAAA champion, is currently No. 1 in most statewide polls. Moriarty is getting some buzz as a possible AAAA contender, as is Aztec.