New season, same expectations for LAHS football

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By Jose Corral

The Los Alamos football team hasn’t experienced a winning season since 2012, but head coach Garett Williams expects the same thing from his team that he’s been preaching since day one.
 Williams is entering his seventh season as the Hilltoppers head coach. And going into the 2016 campaign, Williams and his coaching staff are focusing on developing the character and bond of a Los Alamos football team that hasn’t tasted a playoff victory since 2008.
 “My biggest expectation right now has nothing to do with football,” Williams said. “Our biggest expectation for this group is to come together as a brotherhood. And to learn that if they commit to something bigger than themselves, all the wins and that stuff will be taken care of.”
 Williams said he wanted his teams to be a foundation on how the Los Alamos community recognizes hard work, especially in the sport of football.    
“We want this town to see our kids working hard and coming out of this program with character and learning how to sacrifice for each other,” Williams said. “We have a bunch of great kids right now that are working unbelievably hard. We’re pretty thin on numbers right now so we’re trying to keep our kids healthy.”
Although it appears that the Hilltoppers are focusing more on the internal structure of the team, instead of the win-loss column, Williams believes in perfecting a system that could potentially lead to some wins for Los Alamos.   
“When you come together as a team, you’re going to have success from that,” Williams said. “These guys will win some games and hopefully they’ll win a lot of them but right now that’s not what we are focusing on. We’re focusing on becoming the best team we can be right now.”
 In order for the Hilltoppers to have on field success this season, they’ll have to depend on key returners on the offensive side of the ball.
Among the key offensive returners are senior quarterback Nick Quartieri, senior Travis Gonzales, senior center Patrick Irish and senior Kevin Maresca. The experience of the returners and the offensive line will be vital for Los Alamos’ flex bone and triple option offense.    
“Our offense is a step ahead of where we finished last year,” Williams said. “We lost a few kids including a wide receiver and three our running backs. Obviously that’s going to hurt but we got some quality young kids coming in the backfield. We have almost our whole offensive line coming back and also our senior quarterback.”
One of Williams’ biggest concerns for the 2016 season is the lack of depth that has been an issue for Los Alamos in the past decade. Keeping key players healthy will likely determine Los Alamos’ fate this season.   
“We don’t have a lot of depth on the varsity team,” Williams said. “But if we stay healthy, I think we’re a step ahead of where we were just because of experience. It’s going to be a matter of staying healthy for us. We definitely have some weapons that we can take advantage from.”
 The lack of numbers will demand extra work for a number of Hilltoppers who are expected to be starters on offense and defense. The physical toll that some players will endure can affect Los Alamos during the season, especially in late game situations.
Defensively, the Hilltoppers lost a couple pieces from last year but return the majority of a defense that improved in points and yards allowed from 2014.  
“We also haven’t lost a lot on defense,” Williams said. “I really think that we’re pretty solid on offense and defense with our first crew. But we have to be able to roll our kids effectively because they’re likely never coming off the field.”
Los Alamos will see three new opponents in 2016, with the inclusion of Albuquerque Academy in District 2-5A, and the insertion of Grants and Gallup in the Hilltoppers’ schedule. However, Williams expects to prepare for opponents as usual.   
“Mostly we’re going to take care of what we run,” Williams said. “We have done a good job of preparing our kids on what they’re going to see and putting them in great positions. A lot of what we do is based on what people are going to show us and we’ll have wrinkles that we can put into our offense but we’re running our base offense no matter what.”
 The Hilltoppers will open the 2016 season Aug. 26 at home against Pojoaque. Historically, Los Alamos’ district only sees one team get into the state playoffs. However, last year Capital and Española Valley proved that a good showing in the non-district schedule could propel numerous teams from District 2-5A into the state playoffs. The Hilltoppers will likely have to depend on early-season success to make a serious run at the state playoffs.   
“That pre-district season is a lot about us getting our stuff where we need it,” Williams said. “In this state we have to win district to assure a spot in the playoffs. Our schedule has kind of been flipped and our big games are now towards the beginning. But still all those district games will be must-win games.”
Williams believes this Los Alamos team has a great opportunity to claim the District 2-5A title. But again, those chances will depend on how injury-free the Hilltoppers can stay this season.  
“I always think that our kids have a great chance in district,” Williams said. “But it will be just a matter of us staying healthy and playing up to that. These guys are going to do some good things.”