Joking Monday afternoon that he really hadn’t left Ignacio High School all year – meaning since the start of the previous scholastic calendar – it was clear ‘Ponch’ Garcia had enjoyed a successful, and for a third straight summer, winning weekend of softball at the annual Escalante Days Tournament in Dolores.
Set to officially begin his third season as Bobcat Football’s head coach just about three hours after speaking with the Drum, he certainly needed the two-day getaway before getting the gridiron grind underway – hopeful that a positive off-season will help with filling numerous positions vacated by last season’s large graduating class.
“We had the weight room open all summer and I was happy,” he said. “Expectations will be way different; we want to be more successful and hopefully we accept that challenge.”
“The coaching staff also has grown; we’re not ‘freshmen’ anymore, we’re not ‘sophomores’ anymore! We’re ‘juniors’ as coaches now, so expectations are really going to grow,” Garcia said. “Kids will be able to get more individual time, more one-on-one, and hopefully better direction.”
But as in 2016, the ’Cats will have to be as quick as possible; the 2017 schedule kicks off at 1 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 26, with a Zero Week visit from non-conference Ellicott. Last year’s venture into El Paso County was a tough go, as the Thunderhawks shook off a slow start at home to humble IHS 52-15 – setting in motion a 5-5 year ended by a 43-6 loss at Meeker in the CHSAA Class 1A State Playoffs.
In a win-big-lose-big campaign, the Cowboys – who finished 12-1 overall, and State Runner-up to Strasburg (13-0) – were EHS’ fifth foe scoring 30 points or more, and fourth piling up more than 40.
And though the ’Hawks will need to replace graduated quarterback Matthew Davidson, running back Jaylen Hayes and several others, versatile now-senior Chiante Stewart should return and if so, will be a marked man by Ignacio’s retooled defense.
“Out there, you know … we were looking for a game and … they were a very good squad,” Garcia said. “Ellicott is coached well, but our kids last year … felt we should have done much better. During the game we were up and down [the field], but hopefully this year we’ll put it in the end zone!”
Who will step up and march the Bobcats up and down IHS Field, as well as other sites, this season is the first priority the boss and his staff will need to address. With graduated Zach Weinreich now a freshman on NCAA Division II Fort Lewis College’s roster, Garcia identified senior Marcus Chapman, junior Trace Lovelace and last season’s primary backup, junior Isiah Jacket, as the early candidates for the wide-open job.
“Quarterback position is going to be tough to fill,” admitted Garcia, noting Chapman’s primary role last year was as a wide receiver, and Lovelace a backup running back behind since-graduated regulars Ethan Appenzeller and Lorenzo Pena.
But when it does become filled, whoever’s pitching should have options eager to catch. senior Kruz Pardo and junior Lawrence Valdez were two of the Southern Peaks Conference’s swiftest afoot in ’16, whether on special teams or offense, and will hopefully return along with seniors Cole McCaw and Nate Herrera, and sophomore Ocean Hunter.
Potentially led by senior Natoni Cundiff and junior Dustin Sanchez, amongst others, the interior lines could surprise as well, despite Spring Commencement claiming regulars Dalton Labarthe and Dalton Mickey.
Overall, the most important pre-season aspect concerning Garcia is the crew’s mental approach.
“We have, you know, that positive attitude,” he stated, “and hopefully we can have the kids buy into what we’re trying to teach. The main goal is to make the kids like what we’re trying to do here, and hopefully that creates success and brings them together.”
After hosting Ellicott, IHS is slated to welcome 3A Crownpoint, N.M., on Sept. 1 (7 p.m. start) for a rematch of last season’s contest dominated by the Bobcats. 2A Montezuma-Cortez then visits on Sept. 15, undoubtedly remembering Ignacio’s romp inside Panther Stadium last fall, and after a trip to 2A Pagosa Springs on Sept. 22, the ’Cats (3-6 overall, 1-4 conference in 2016) begin SPC action at home on Sept. 29 versus Monte Vista.
CHSAANOW.COM PRESEASON CLASS 1A POLL
(released 8/14; Southern Peaks members in italics)
(Others Receiving Votes—Monte Vista, La Jara Centauri, Evergreen Clear Creek, Ault Highland, Parachute Grand Valley, Olathe, Dolores.)