JACONA — Looking swole, boys.

There’s a saying around the Pojoaque Valley football program that tries to explain the benefits of spending so much time in the weight room the past eight months. With all the extra bulk being added, looking swole is a tribute to the increased muscle mass.

“We started in [the weight room] in January and have been getting after it with basically the same group of guys ever since,” said Elks head coach Pat Mares.

The fact that Mares can speak about his program with a legitimate smile on his face is, perhaps, the most positive thing about this year’s team. He was hired just days before the start of preseason camp a year ago and never had a chance to install the kind of system he wanted.

“It’s the same approach, just more things have been added,” he said, referring to the team’s spread offense that puts a heavy emphasis on the players in the backfield.

The main targets in the passing game are the running backs and nearly everyone in the huddle on opening night is a returner, including quarterback Devonn Holmes. A junior, he is a two-year starter under center and his grasp of the Mares offense is a big reason that there’s a measure of optimism this fall.

Deymian Waters slides into the backfield after spending last year at wide receiver. He and Brandon Herrera form a 1-2 punch at running back behind a line that returns all but one starter. The key, though, is the play of Holmes.

“The difference between this year and last year, it’s huge,” Mares said of Holmes. “His maturity, his decision-making, his leadership; it’s all so much better. It’s the kind of improvement we needed and, yeah, I’ve been really impressed. I trust him to make the right reads and make the right decisions.”

Of course, depth is a major concern. Only 27 players have reported to preseason camp, so there will no be subvarsity programs this year. Everyone who plays will do so as a member of the varsity, including all the younger players just giving the sport a try for the first time.

“The goal is to get at [junior varsity] next year,” Mares said. “It takes a long time to build things here and getting a JV is something we have to do. We just need the bodies.”

Truth is, simply getting the players onto the field has been a chore for Mares. With classes underway since last week, a quick check of each player’s medical records revealed that more than half hadn’t completed the mandatory physicals needed to take part. It left just 10 players at practice Monday.

It mirrors a school-wide shortage of athletes, Mares said.

“Kids just aren’t coming out, but it’s not just us,” he said. “Soccer and even volleyball have the same thing.”

For the 20 or so regulars who made the weight room their second home the last eight months, the results are showing. Mares is optimistic that the growing playbook on offense will continue a trend he saw early last season when the Elks scored at least 14 points in four of their five non-district games before a winless run through a district slate that included eventual Class 4A state champion Taos.

Three of the four nondistrict games this fall are at home, as are district games against Taos and Albuquerque St. Pius X. Mares has the entire slate scribbled in blue ink across a white dry-erase board next to his desk. The very bottom line has “State Playoffs” scrolled next to a row of stars.

“I absolutely think we can be there,” he said. “We don’t have much depth and, yeah, we might have an issue with getting tired or injured just like anybody else, but what we do have here is experience.”

It’s an uphill battle. Pojoaque hasn’t had a winning record since 2011 and the Elks have won just three games the last two years and are 7-33 since the start of the winless 2015 season.

POJOAQUE VALLEY ELKS

2018 record: 2-8 overall, 0-5 in District 2/5-4A (no playoffs)

Head coach: Pat Mares (second season)

Key players: Devonn Holmes, junior, 5-foot-11, 185 pounds, QB/DB; Brandon Herrera, jr., 5-8/185, RB; Steve Sanchez, sr., 5-8/155, RB/LB; Bryan Martinez, jr., 5-8/165, RB/DB; Javin Lujan, jr., 5-5/165, WR/DB; Dion Valdez, sr., 5-7/165, WR/DB; Deymian Waters, jr., 5-8/190, WR/LB; Anthony Meloy-Chavez, jr., 5-7/135, WR/DB; Kevin Martinez, sr., 6-0/260, OL/DL.

Outlook: Better than last year, and better than the year before that. Whether that’s good enough to make a playoff push is doubtful, given the top-heavy nature of the Elks’ district (defending state champ Taos and perennial power St. Pius). Depth is a serious concern as just 27 players have reported to camp, meaning the majority of the best players will rarely leave the field. The good thing? The team only lost a couple of regulars to graduation so there is a decent veteran presence up and down the roster.

2019 Schedule

Aug. 23 — Shiprock, 7 p.m.

Aug. 30 — Santa Fe Indian, 7 p.m.

Sept. 6 — at Los Alamos, 7 p.m.

Sept. 13 — at Escalante, 7 p.m.

Sept. 20 — Thoreau, 7 p.m.

Oct. 4 — St. Pius-x, 7 p.m.

Oct. 11 — at Grants-x, 7 p.m.

Oct. 18 — at Bernalillo-x, 7 p.m.

Oct. 25 — Taos-x, 7 p.m.

NEW The New Mexican sports staff breaks down Week 1 prep football matchups and provides an overview of the area's soccer scene.

Nov. 2 — at Española Valley-x, 7 p.m.

x-District 2/5-4A opponent

Tour schedule

This is a 12-part series on the Tour of Northern New Mexico football programs. The schedule:

Aug. 9: Escalante Lobos

Aug. 10: West Las Vegas Dons

Aug. 11: Las Vegas Robertson Cardinals

Wednesday: Pojoaque Valley Elks

Thursday: Los Alamos Hilltoppers

Friday: Capital Jaguars

Saturday: Taos Tigers

Sunday: Santa Fe High Demons

Aug. 20: Española Valley Sundevils

Aug. 21: New Mexico School for the Deaf Roadrunners

Aug. 22: Santa Fe Indian School Braves

Aug. 23: St. Michael’s Horsemen