It’s an uphill climb that is just a little steeper in some years as opposed to others.

For the Santa Fe Indian School football team, this is one of those times when — at least from their perspective — it doesn’t seem all that intimidating.

The Braves return a handful of starters on offense and defense, namely the platooning quarterback tandem of junior Devry Vigil and senior Shaun Riley, as well as four starting offensive linemen.

“I feel like, you know what, if we can keep these guys together and have them finish out the season the way we start, we should be OK,” said SFIS head coach Carl Vigil.

Now in his fourth season at the helm, Vigil has gotten used to the SFIS tendency to lose players as the season drags along. Most teams battle attrition from teenage kids who lose interest in one form or another, but at the Indian School, it can be debilitating.

Last year, the Braves lost their leading rusher, who quit the team just before dates with district powerhouses Las Vegas Robertson and St. Michael’s.

“Just once, I’d like to see what we could do if we kept everyone together for a game like that,” Vigil said. “I’m not saying we’d come out of there with a win, but it would at least be more competitive. That’s kind of our goal this year, to finish strong.”

That all starts in the offensive backfield where Devry Vigil has edged out Riley in a heated battle to start at quarterback. Riley got most of the action last year as one thing or another — a shoulder injury here, a bad ankle there — kept Vigil from getting any scheduled starts.

Riley threw all seven of SFIS’ touchdown passes a year ago and, despite inconsistencies connecting on intermediate throws, seemed to set himself apart coming into preseason camp.

With Thursday’s opener against Cuba already here, Vigil gets the nod with Riley moving to the slot receiver position.

“Shaun’s our fastest guy off the line and we need him in there,” Carl Vigil said. “No one can stick to him off the snap, at least not in our practices.”

Devry Vigil has developed his own skillset as a passer, improving his accuracy quick outs while stretching the field with a superior arm. What’s more, he has shown a tendency to make quality reads when forced to make quick decisions.

“We’ll still be a two-quarterback system,” Carl Vigil said. “We’re not looking to keep Shaun out that spot at all.”

Francisco Pino will be the starting running back — eventually. The senior showed up late to preseason camp and will be held out until the team’s second game. Until then, it’s Julian Martinez working as the feature back. The 145-pound junior usually works as a receiver.

The biggest concern on defense is getting beat deep, something the Braves suffered several times last year. Cuba, which visits SFIS on Thursday night, had three home run balls of 50-plus yards in a win over the Braves a year ago.

A total of 38 players have reported to preseason camp, giving SFIS enough bodies to fill out a junior varsity roster that will play five games. The varsity only has nine games on its schedule thanks to McCurdy dropping its football team after not getting enough players. Carl Vigil said the Braves had opportunities to play a 10th game, but only against bigger schools like Belen and others in 4A, 5A and even 6A.

In many ways, it all boils down to this if anyone is going to talk about the playoffs at SFIS: The Braves need to win at least one game in 2-3A to have any shot at the postseason.

“Honestly, it might take more than that,” Vigil said. “Even with one win, people on the committee still might not give us the benefit of the doubt because we’re the Indian School, you know what I mean? We need to prove ourselves more than that, I think.”

As for the district, there’s not much to do about that. Robertson has been to four straight state championship games and outscored SFIS 170-7 in the three years they’ve been in 2-3A together. The Braves haven’t beaten St. Michael’s since before the Great Depression. Getting the best of West Las Vegas has gotten harder than ever now that the Dons have become a state power. Then there’s Raton, which has won 21 games the last three years, one fewer than the Braves have managed the last six.

Santa Fe Indian School Braves

2018 record: 3-7 overall, 0-4 in District 2-3A (no playoffs)

Head coach: Carl Vigil (fourth season)

Key players: Eilan Tosa, senior, 5-foot-11, 190 pounds, TE/DL; Izell Latoma, sr., 5-7,180, RB/LB; Shaun Riley, 5-8, 145, QB/DB; D’Kota Potter, jr., 5-11, 165, WR/DB; Francisco Pino, sr., 5-7, 140, RB/DB; Henry Ntnb, sr., 5-11, 135, WR/DB; Devry Vigil, jr., 5-9, 150, QB/DB.

Outlook: No matter how you slice it, the Braves are looking up in a brutal district that had every team but them go to the playoffs last year. That includes state runner-up Las Vegas Robertson and semifinalist West Las Vegas. Making headway in that group can only be done with a strong nondistrict slate that builds confidence, something Vigil thinks they can do behind an offense that features returning starting quarterback Shaun Riley. The offense certainly needs a jolt; the entire unit was held to just seven points in four district games last fall while giving up 193 points. As always, depth and durability will be a concern as several key players will remain on the field nearly all game.

NEW Santa Fe High head football coach Andrew Martinez joins the New Mexican sports crew to talk about the Demons' win over Taos and their 3-1 start to the season.

2019 schedule

Thursday — Cuba, 7 p.m.

Aug. 30 — at Pojoaque Valley, 7 p.m.

Sept. 13 — at Wingate, 7 p.m.

Sept. 19 — Laguna-Acoma, 7 p.m.

Sept. 27 — at Thoreau, 7 p.m.

Oct. 3 — Las Vegas Robertson-x, 7 p.m.

Oct. 10 — St. Michael’s-x, 7 p.m.

Oct. 18 — at Raton-x, 7 p.m.

Oct. 25 — at West Las Vegas-x, 7 p.m.

x-district 2-3A opponent