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A big chunk of the roster of the 2011 Los Alamos Hilltopper football team has limited or no varsity experience.
Those youngsters, however, will get tested in a hurry this season.
The Hilltoppers’ season kicks off Saturday against Pojoaque. Game time is 1:30 p.m.
Even before the first snap, however, the Hilltoppers will have plenty of challenges ahead of them this season. The Hilltoppers have only 25 players listed on the varsity roster, more than half of those being freshmen or sophomores, the majority of which have little or no experience at the varsity level.
Los Alamos head coach Garett Williams, who is entering his second season, said the team’s first live action this season, last week’s scrimmage against Piedra Vista, went fairly well overall.
“It wasn’t bad,” Williams said. “We still have a long way to go as far as execution. That’s because we’re so young. But we’ve got a good offensive line and a good group of skill guys.”
In 2011, the Hilltoppers are hoping to improve on a 4-6 record in Williams’ first year. The Hilltoppers finished in second place in the District 2-4A standings, missing out on the playoffs after a tight, three-way race between them, Santa Fe and eventual champion Bernalillo.
Los Alamos won three of four district contests, but struggled in the nondistrict season, limping to a 1-5 record, its only victory coming in its opener against Pojoaque.
Following that, Los Alamos took some lumps against Aztec, Farmington, Belen and Albuquerque Academy.
The 2011 schedule is a mirror image of the 2010 slate. Los Alamos has the same group of opponents but the teams will flip-flop home and away games.
Going in, Los Alamos has one crucial facet in its favor: a strong, seasoned offensive line.
Anchored by veterans Nate Robbins (5-foot-10, 255) and Grant Washburn (6-1, 210), Los Alamos will try to establish its running game out of the “pistol” offense it employed last season — the “pistol” is a modified version of a shotgun spread which has similar features to the “wildcat” offense that’s very much en vogue in the National Football League.
Robbins, who was banged up earlier this week but should be ready for Saturday’s contest, and Washburn, along with the rest of the offensive line, will be leaned upon heavily this season.
“We’re pretty solid,” Washburn said. “The team’s really smart. They’re catching on. We have a great work ethic…we’re working really hard to do what we need to do.”
Right behind the offensive line, however, is one of the team’s biggest question marks heading into 2011. Los Alamos lost two-year starting quarterback Kory Balog to graduation and was looking hard at several different possible replacements.
Williams said he will likely platoon senior David Knapp and freshman Danny Finn for Saturday’s game.
Knapp is a punishing runner coming out of the backfield who played quarterback in middle school, while Finn is tall (6-1), lanky and features a solid throwing arm.
In the pistol offense, the quarterback is asked to carry the ball anywhere between 10 and 20 times per game. Knapp said he’s ready for the challenge leading the offense.
“It’s not that big of a change for me, except the intensity,” he said. “I learned a lot from Kory on how to do things. I expect our team to execute well enough to do the stuff we’re doing. I’m comfortable.”
Behind the quarterback spot, Los Alamos will also likely look at several options. Junior fullback Arnoldo Ortiz had some quality games last season but is currently recovering from a broken finger, while many of the rest of Los Alamos’ options are inexperienced.
Points were in short supply for the Hilltoppers during their 2010 nondistrict season.
Following a pasting of Pojoaque, 40-0 in the season opener, Los Alamos managed a total of 27 points in its next three games, including a 52-0 shutout at the hands of Aztec in week two.
The Hilltopper defense looks to have the same plusses and minuses as the offense. The Hilltoppers should be stout on the defensive line — speedy senior defensive lineman Alan Dahl caused plenty of problems for opposing offensive coordinators last season — but the secondary is an unknown quantity, also populated mostly with younger players.
To compensate, Los Alamos is planning to use a lot of nickel defenses against teams that like to air it out — Aztec has been among the most prolific throwing teams in Class 4A in recent years.
The Hilltoppers will open 2-4A play Oct. 7 at Bernalillo, a game which could have immediate impact on the balance of power in the district.
Williams said he’s not looking any further than Saturday’s contest. After that, the coaching staff will review game film and move on from there.
“If we can play aggressive football, we’ll take care of the rest,” he said. “That’s what we’re looking for Saturday.”
Head coach: Garett Williams (2nd year)
Assistant coaches: Paul Anderson, Pat Brousseau, Matthew Felton, Marco Lucero, Jude Montoya, David Van Etten
Bryce Van Etten
* District 2-4A game
Aug. 27: at Pojoaque, 1:30 p.m.
Sept. 2: at Aztec, 7 p.m.
Sept. 9: vs. Farmington, 7 p.m.
Sept. 16: vs. Bloomfield, 7 p.m.
Sept. 23: at Belen, 7 p.m.
Sept. 30: vs. Albuquerque Academy, 7 p.m.
Oct. 7: vs. Bernalillo, 7 p.m.*
Oct. 14: at Santa Fe, 7 p.m.*
Oct. 21: vs. Española Valley, 7 p.m.*
Oct. 28: at Capital, 7 p.m.*