Rams hope experience pays off

Dave Wagner

Mark McAfee says he has no problem with the Portales’ Rams effort. He just wants to see them fine-tune the technique as they try to bounce back from a 1-9 record in 2010.

The Rams open their season on Friday against Las Vegas Robertson at Greyhound Stadium, and McAfee is hopeful a relatively experienced team can turn around a program which has struggled since winning the Class 3A state championship in 2008.

“We know what direction we need to go,” McAfee said. “The kids are working really, really hard; I don’t ever fault their effort. We’ve just got to iron out the technique aspect a little bit.”

The Rams start the season with three of their first four games at home. The problem is the teams they’re facing, including Class 2A Texico in the only road outing, are pretty solid.

“It’s to our advantage as far as playing close to home,” McAfee said. “That’s why continued improvement is so important.

“We want to get better going into (District 4-3A play).”

Most of the Rams starters are seniors. The offensive line is probably the most experienced area of the team with third-year starters Morgan Hiner at left guard, Ryan Schmidt at center and Justin Santibanez at right tackle, along with second-year starter A.J. Marquez at left tackle. Another senior, Jafar Romero, will be at right guard.

“I think we’ll be pretty good,” Hiner said. “We have a lot of good players. Defensively, I think we’ll be pretty sound.”

The rest of the offense has Phoenix Russell at quarterback, either Miguel Arbaca or Mark Apodaca at fullback, Collin McAfee at tailback, David Rodriguez and Jonathan Esparsen at tight end and Brandon Lovato at wide receiver. All are seniors.

Russell served as the backup QB last year, and started two games.

“He had a great scrimmage (Friday) night (at Lubbock Roosevelt),” coach McAfee said.

Defensively, the Rams start all seniors as well except for linebacker Osbaldo Navarrette, a junior.

Collin McAfee and Nathan Tarango are at cornerback, with Lovato at safety in the Rams’ 3-5-3 look.

Abraham Chavez, Hiner, Schmidt or Teagan Terry will be at nose guard, with Joe Garza starting at right end and either Romero or Geroge Delgade at left end.

Returning starters at linebacker include Wyatt Legler, Esparsen and Marquez, with Rodriguez and Navarette filling the other positions.

Coach McAfee said depth could be an issue.

“It always is, but probably moreso this year,” he said. “Our junior class is small, so we’re looking at some sophomores to be game-ready if needed.”

Soccer player Kyle Bonem will handle the placekicking duties when there isn’t a conflict, McAfee said. Otherwise, Esparsen will handle all kicking duties, including punting.

Hiner said the Rams have set some high goals.

“I’d like to see us win state, but you just want to play each game like it’s your last,” he said. “I’m ready to get started.”

McAfee said the Rams are working hard on conditioning.

“We’ve got to execute and play well on Friday night,” he said. “The preseason is a stepping stone. We want to be better (in the first game) than we were in the scrimmage.”