Española Valley Football Program Takes Hit
By George Morse
The embattled Española Valley High School football program, just a little over two weeks away from the official start of the 2019 season with the beginning of two-a-day practices Aug. 5, is looking for a new coach after the resignation of Miguel Medina. Citing personal and health reasons, Medina submitted a letter of resignation to interim Athletic Director Theresa Flores Monday at Española Valley High School.
Medina was about to begin his second season in his second stint as head coach. He also served as head coach from 2012-2015 and during that time the program made slow but steady progress. After a 4-6 season in 2014, the Sundevils put it all together in 2015 with the best season in school history. Española went 9-2 and won its first District 2-4A title. They became only the second team in school history to qualify for the state football playoffs.
Following that season, chaos took over the Española Valley athletic department during the spring of 2016. After winning the 2016 Class 5A state basketball championship, head boys basketball coach Richard Martinez was fired by then Española Public Schools Superintendent Bobbie Gutierrez. Gutierrez was then forced to resign by the Española School Board. In protest of Gutierrez’s firing, Medina submitted his resignation as coach.
In 2016, Española suffered through a 1-9 season, followed by a 2-8 season in 2017. The optimism that the 2015 team had inspired was slipping away and it looked like the Sundevils were falling back into the old pattern of mediocrity. A small spark was ignited when Medina was rehired as football coach in the spring of 2018.
Last season was a rough one for Española and Medina. It featured a heart-breaking 23-22 loss to Santa Fe High School on the final play of the game. Off the field tragedy struck when 2018 Española graduate and former boys varsity basketball player Cameron Martinez was killed in a shooting. In the football game following Martinez’s killing, a fight involving players and fans resulted in the Sundevils forfeiting the game 7-0 to Bernalillo High School. As punishment imposed by the New Mexico Activities Association, Española fans were not allowed to attend the Sundevils’ last home football game, which ended in a loss to St. Pius X High School. Española’s starting quarterback left the team during the season. The season ended on a positive note, as Española defeated local rival Pojoaque Valley High School 46-26 for its third victory of the season. The Sundevils finished 3-7 on the year.
Losing their coach this close to the beginning of the season is going to be another hill that Española football players need to climb.
The struggles at Española with its football program are not limited to the Sundevils among local football teams. McCurdy Charter School not too long ago was a consistent state football playoff team. The rivalry between Escalante High school and the Bobcats was one of the best in Northern New Mexico.
Last season, McCurdy finished the season 1-8 with their only victory coming by forfeit over Questa High School (another Northern New Mexico high school struggling with its football program). The Bobcats will not even be playing football in 2019 after the administration made the decision to drop the football program and McCurdy’s coaches were not rehired.
It remains to be seen if McCurdy will be able to resurrect its football program in the future.
Pojoaque Valley High School finished 2-8 last season. The Elks suffered through a four-game losing streak where they were outscored 208-7 before putting up 26 points in the season-ending loss to Española. Pojoaque had a very young team and they have the potential to improve. Pat Mares returns for his second season as head coach.
Dulce High School has chosen to drop its 11-man football program and compete in 8-man football.
The exception to struggling football programs locally is Escalante High School. The Lobos consistently field quality teams and the last few seasons have been beating much bigger schools like Pojoaque and Española. With three state championships since 2012 and consistently producing winning teams, the Lobos stand out among local football programs.
Last season, Escalante finished 9-3 on the year. The Lobos, however, struggled against the top teams in Class 2A. The Lobos will likely continue to dominate local football teams, but will need to raise their level of play once they reach the state playoffs.
The biggest plus for Escalante is head coach Dusty Giles returns for his ninth season at Escalante. Giles and his coaching staff have built a solid program and Escalante does more reloading for each season rather than rebuilding.
The other is that the kids in this small community love to play football. Escalante is the exception to the rule when it comes to support for football versus basketball. In Tierra Amarilla Chama and Canjilon, football rules.
At most of the other schools in Northern New Mexico, basketball reigns supreme. That said, there will always be students for whom playing football is their passion. Despite the odds of a winning season and even winning just a few games being stacked against them, they want to play. They will play with heart. They deserve a better shake than what than what they’ve been getting.