NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – Friday Night Football is back as high schools across New Mexico count down the days until the 2022 season. Van Tate and Jared Chester are in the studio to give a look at every classification in this year’s preseason show.

Shakeup in Class 6A

The top classification has run through Cleveland high school in recent years. The Storm comes into the season as two-time defending champions (3 including the shortened COVID season), however, there is a new coach at the helm. Longtime Cleveland coach Heath Ridenour left the program in the off-season to join the coaching staff at UNM, and Storm assistant Robert Garza was promoted to head coach.

“The one thing about our program is there’s been a lot of consistency and we’re going to continue to do the things that we’ve done in the past,” Garza said. Few coaches changing here and there, but the system is what it is.”

District 1 rival and 2021 state runner-up Rio Rancho also enters the season with a new head coach. The new lead man for the Rams, Nate Pino, joined Van in the studio alongside quarterback Noah Nelson to discuss how Rio Rancho can reclaim the blue trophy.

Fellow district 1 team Cibola is a third team in the district that has a new head coach. Chris Howe took the reigns for the Cougars following a stint at Eldorado as defensive coordinator. Howe and senior Branden Castillo spoke to Jared about why Cibola should not be overlooked in 2022.

The top dog in district 2/5, La Cueva, has arguably the best quarterback in the state with Aidan Armenta, as well as a talented running back room and experienced offensive line. Coaches expect the offense to carry the team, at least early on.

“You know, when your signal caller, the guy you put the most pressure on, is somebody who has a year of experience under his belt now, and the chemistry he’s built with his receivers not only from last season but in the spring and the summer,” coach back said. “You know, I think he is going to have a great season.”

West Mesa is a newcomer to district 2/5 and the Mustangs seek success under new head coach and former Lobo football player Landrick Brody. West Mesa finished the 2021 season 3-6, and Brody hopes to instill a winning mindset to his players.

“That’s been kind of the biggest deal, trying to get these guys to buy into the culture that we’re trying to create,” he said. “It’s a process man. I will say it until I’m blue in the face, respect the process, respect the process. So, it’s just a process getting these guys into the right culture to where they’re looking out and taking care of each other and putting team first.”

5A teams revamping culture

Clovis will look much different this season thanks to a new head coach and a new style of offense. As a native of eastern New Mexico, first-year head coach Andrew McCraw brings a throwback style to the Wildcats.

“We are trying to bring back being nothing tougher than a Clovis Wildcat,” McCraw said. “You know, that’s one of those things growing up two hours down the road that you always heard growing up and always heard around the state. So, that’s definitely the attitude and the moxie we want to bring back and we are trying to work for.”

The team with the most championships in the state resides in Class 5A. Artesia lost in the 2021 title game to Los Lunas, who since made the jump to Class 6A, and players want to get the taste of defeat from their mouths.

“The intention and goal is always to win a state championship but really give it our all and have no mistakes and be one that’s really our goal and bring a championship to this community again,” LB/DE Matthew Chavez said.

The Roswell Coyotes are hoping their late-season momentum from last season will carry over to 2022. Following an 0-4 start in 2021, the Coyotes turned things around to make the postseason. There were six sophomores starting on that squad who learned what it took to be successful.

“You know, got a lot of valuable experience with those kids and a lot of underclassmen so I think that’s gonna really help us moving into the first part of our season this year,” coach Lynn said.

Yet another team with a new head coach is Valley. Billy Cobos was an assistant at Valley last season and now assumes the role of head coach following the departure of Judge Chavez. Numbers are up for the Vikings this season and Cobos feels positive about the culture he is installing.

“We are trying to bring back a tradition and make it consistent, and be a top 5 team or program in the state in class 5A every year,” he said. “Hopefully, the kids will buy in, and the coaches buy in and we are off and running.”

Playoff teams become stronger in classes 4A and 3A

Lovington comes into the season as defending the defending state champion in class 4A and the Wildcats make a strong case to repeat with 32 returning lettermen. In total, there are 11 returning starters and the strong corps of players gives coach Gonzales confidence going into the season.

“A lot of hard work went into that state championship last year and the good thing about it is having the success that we had there is a standard that has been set and so, these kids want to protect the tradition that has been established, but its funny my wife asked me the day after the state championship, ‘Do you feel like you can take a breath of fresh air now, its the first one that I have been able to win as a head coach?’ I kind of thought about it, no not really I just want to win the next one.”

New Mexico Military Institute’s 2021 season ended in a quarterfinal loss to St. Michael’s, and the Colts are a team that should not be overlooked coming into this year. There are 18 returning starters and some new additions that include a 6’8″, 326 lbs lineman transfer from Indiana.

Gateway Christian remembering Micky Reeves

While Gateway Christian secured a win in last year’s 6-man state championship, it wasn’t much of a celebration, as head coach Micky Reeves collapsed during halftime and later died in a hospital. Coming into this season, the Warriors are playing with Reeves on their minds and in their hearts.

“Him calling plays, just messing around and hanging out while doing the same thing, him coaching buy at the same time, I mean we miss him for that. We are always going to try our best. he would have always wanted us to try our best. We did it while he was here and we will do it while he is not. We are going to play as hard as we can.”

The regular season kickoff of Friday Night Football will air on August 19 on Fox New Mexico.