By Kevin Wilson
It wasn’t a strong-armed quarterback or the graduation of Less Long that did it. It wasn’t the emergence of a potential all-state receiving corps.
It was a film session a few seasons ago that let the Portales High Rams know they needed to throw the ball to get to the next level.
“We’d line up the wing (offense) and they’d put 11 guys in the box,” Portales offensive coordinator Greg Poynor said. “We blocked it right and did everything right. And we got two yards.”
The Rams have gone 23-13 over the last three seasons, all of which featured a 1,000-yard running back. There’s no mission statement that says junior Chris Carter or senior Cole Parrish won’t make it four years in a row, but the Rams aim to make opposing defenses worry more about their receiving corps.
“I’ve got four guys I think we can throw it to anytime,” said Poynor. The quartet of Manuel Sisneros (home run threat), Briant Banister (out patterns), Austin Pullen (possession receiver) and Carter (screens and bail-out plays) makes up what Poynor unabashedly refers to as the best set of receivers to ever suit up for PHS.
“If there’s a better receiver in the state (than Sisneros), I don’t know who it is,” Poynor said.
It all starts with senior Seth Clabaugh, a 6-foot-1, 192-pound lefty that has started since the end of his sophomore season.
“I think Seth will have the best year he’s ever had,” Poynor said. “We’ve got a good O-line that’s going to give us time to throw and we’ve got some backs that are going to take pressure off of the passing game.”
Clabaugh is one of the team’s biggest comedians, and he’s not about joking about his growing pains at the quarterback spot. Laughs aside, he remembers every time he’s thrown into double coverage or under thrown a receiver and came out with an interception and a long walk back to the sidelines.
“I made a lot of bad reads, threw the ball where I thought I could fit it in,” Clabaugh said of last season.
Poynor said coaching was to blame as well, as last year’s approach was to, “find the open guy, and what kind of coaching is that?
“Now we’re saying, ‘If they do this, we do this.’” Poynor explained.
Ram receivers said they gained valuable experience from this summer’s 7-on-7 league in Clovis.
“The 7-on-7 definitely helped us,” said Banister, a 5-foot-10, 150-pound senior. “I think Seth’s more experienced. He improved a lot from last year.”
Banister’s role, he said, depends on the particular situation (defensive set, down and yardage). It’s part of what Clabaugh calls, “choice routes.”
“It’s a read,” Clabaugh said. “They find their guy and read off of that, whether (they should) duck out or continue with the route.”
Pullen, who Poynor says has the best hands on the team, is a 6-foot, 150-pound senior playing his only year on the varsity squad. Pullen also played in the summer league, and he can tell the difference.
“It’s going to be a lot better,” Pullen said. “We’re even practicing it better. I didn’t play last year, but I can tell by everyone talking about it.”