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There is no shortage of things to prove for the Los Alamos Hilltopper football team heading into the 2014 season.
Los Alamos will have a new, solid district opponent this season, a revamped backfield and, most notably, a new signal-caller heading into the opener.
The Hilltoppers open their season Friday night when they take on the Pojoaque Valley Elks at 7 p.m. at Sullivan Field.
Along with all the issues so far, Los Alamos’ turnout for the opening day of football practice was skimpy. The number has improved over the course of the preseason — there are now 30 players on the team’s regular roster.
Hilltopper head coach Garett Williams said that while it’s not a huge group, it’s one with some experience coming back, particularly at the line of scrimmage. Offensive line fixtures Jonathan Schueler, John Dermer and Zack Sturgeon should help make the transition on offense go a little more smoothly.
Los Alamos features 17 seniors heading into the opener, almost all of which have played regularly at one time during their Hilltopper careers.
“We’ve still got a long ways to go, but that’s where you’re usually at on your first game,” Williams said. “We’ve got a lot of seniors back. We’ve got a couple new guys that have really stepped in and are helping out. It’s little things, some of those new guys learning the intricacies of the offense and defense. We still have a ways to go where we want to be.”
But the quarterback situation has been the one that has received the most attention this preseason.
Heading into the start of training, Los Alamos had three candidate vying for the position, none of which had played quarterback at the varsity level, including senior Clay Singer, sophomore Sincere Baha and freshman Jack Stewart.
Stewart, who played basketball for the Hilltoppers as an eighth grader last winter, is being eyed as the starter of the future. Whether the future is now hasn’t been completely determined.
Williams said Stewart and Singer will both get time under center Friday night. While Stewart may be the more athletic of the two, Singer has a strong arm and can throw the ball well on the move.
There is plenty of upside to all three candidates, but their lack of experience has limited the Hilltoppers to the more basic facets of their pistol-based offense.
It would seem to be a good warm-up contest for Los Alamos in its opener to face the Pojoaque Valley Elks, a team that has had little success during its football history, but the Elks have shown signs they’ve turned a page on that history.
Last season, Pojoaque Valley finished 6-6 and advanced to the Class 3A playoffs for the second time in a row. In the playoffs, the Elks earned one of the biggest wins in program history, stunning the Albuquerque Academy Chargers 41-40 in the first round.
The Elks and Hilltoppers opened against each other in 2013, with the Hilltoppers rolling to a big 43-14 victory in Jacona.
Along with the veteran offensive and defensive lines, Los Alamos is anchored by linebacker Elliot Hersman, who was the District 2-4A Defensive Player of the Year two years ago,. Hersman led Los Alamos in tackles last season and is among the district’s top players heading into 2014.
Also returning this season are fullback and linebacker Sam Ortiz, receiver Alex Delamarter and defensive back Scott Gasway.
Los Alamos is also going into this season looking for a replacement for its workhorse in the backfield, Xavier Dennison. It may have found one, though in transfer student Jarett Genero, who, while smaller than Dennison and the others in the backfield last season, has good speed, particularly on the edges.
In 2013, Los Alamos finished 4-6 overall and 3-1 in District 2-4A.
The Hilltoppers haven’t appeared in the playoffs since 2010.
Following Friday’s game, Los Alamos will take on St. Pius X in Albuquerque Sept. 6 and Moriarty on the road Sept. 12.
It returns to Sullivan Field for homecoming Sept. 19 against Kirtland Central.
“We want to come out and execute,” Williams said. “That’s what you want on that first game. You want those guys to come out, no mental mistakes, no stupid offsides or motion penalties. We want to be crisp. We want to be clean. We want to fire on all cylinders with that stuff.”