It’s time for the script to flip at Santa Fe High.
A football team that has struggled for the better part of the past 33 years sees the light at the end of the tunnel, and the Demons want to write a new narrative — one in which they throw the first punch, where they dictate the terms of a game.
“It’s a lot easier when you hit them first,” Santa Fe High senior Trent Jones said. “Now, you’re on top and you don’t have to climb out of the hole. You’re making them fight for it. It’s a lot easier when you set the tone right away in the beginning of the game and they realize that now.”
In the third year under head coach Andrew Martinez, the barriers are falling. The team has progressed from stopping the exodus of players to throwing off the shackles of a 35-game losing streak. This year, there is optimism that Santa Fe High can — and will — compete in just about every game.
Martinez said the team’s 23-22 win over Española Valley on Sept. 7 erased the burden of a losing streak that had extended into a fifth season.
“That cloud was gone,” Martinez said. “There was some confidence built with a really young team that really wanted to win.”
If anybody is going to pave the way toward success for Santa Fe High, which has managed just two winning seasons and five nonlosing records since 1986, it will be the sophomore class of about 20 players. Many of them earned their varsity stripes last year.
Luc Jaramillo, the Demons’ sophomore quarterback, saw the difference between playing against middle schoolers versus seasoned high school players.
“I went from, my eighth grade year, playing guys who couldn’t catch me and now, the speed is a lot different,” Jaramillo said. “That first game [last season], I’m going from playing Capshaw [Middle School] to [Las Vegas] Robertson in nine months. It was a big adjustment.”
One thing that Martinez won’t discount is the competitive nature of that sophomore class. He said that group made significant gains in strength and speed, and their understanding of the Demons’ system is much further along than it was last fall. Martinez saw the team hold its ground in 7-on-7 passing camps against Taos [the Class 4A champion] and Roswell [the 5A champion].
No longer were the Demons getting devoured. If anything, they were giving as much as they were getting from their opponents. And when Martinez gave the team a few days off from summer workouts prior to the first day of practice Aug. 5, Jaramillo organized a couple of players-only workouts that had between 10-20 players on the field working on plays and going through drills.
“Team bond is really important, and these guys just have a really good rapport with each other,” Martinez said. “They’re saying, ‘We’re different. We’re not the same team any more.’ That’s the mentality. That’s just who they are. You know, some teams talk it, but these guys really believe it.”
That’s not to say Santa Fe High won’t encounter some bumps. The Demons lost their top offensive weapon in running back Sammy Martinez to graduation, and Martinez expects a group of three or four backfield options to step into that void, led by junior Matt Abeyta.
Speed was something Santa Fe High lacked a season ago, and it affected the play calling. However, the Demons made significant gains in strength, speed and quickness.
This year, the Demons have several receiving threats in Jones, junior Jeremy Martinez and sophomore Zach Martinez (who also is the backup quarterback) who can stretch defenses and open running lanes.
The Demons will be more willing to throw the ball this year.
“It’s always fun to go out, run and catch a ball,” Jones said. “My biggest thing is that the coaches are going to put us in the best positions to score. I will make a play at any opportunity they give me, and I know the rest of our offense will, too. It’s going to make us a more dangerous team.”
Another unintended benefit from the underclassmen getting more playing time is that they developed depth in key areas, especially along the defensive line.
Martinez envisions a rotation of up to 10 players along the front four, which he feels can be the backbone of a strong defense.
“We are all very comfortable with those guys,” Martinez said. “They can all fill in, they can all play snaps and be fresh all game — and really all year — without any drop off. There are some speed guys and some power guys. There’s a really nice mixture and it’s a very deep front. Fronts can mask some deficiencies in your back end. Good front fours will help that defense.”
For now, though, the Demons are all potential. The results will come once the season begins in earnest Friday against Las Vegas Robertson.
And that’s the only way to flip the script — on the field.
The Demons, though, are tired of being the punchline.