The further Father Time drifts away from the magical 2015 season of the Española Valley football team, the more impossible it seems that things will ever be that good again for the Sundevils.
That improbable nine-win season that resulted in just the second playoff berth in school history has been followed by three forgettable years with six combined wins and, as of right now, three different head coaches.
Delfin Quintana is the latest man to rise to the top spot in the football program. The Sundevils’ defensive coordinator last year, he will coach the offense this season after being promoted to head coach after the sudden (and not entirely unexpected) departure of former head man Miguel Medina.
“It’s going to take a bit of a learning curve, I’m not going to lie,” Quintana said. “Hopefully by our third or fourth game it will come together and we’ll be the team we think we can be.”
Not exactly the most optimistic outlook of all time, but clearly not the worst. The Sundevils do have 30 players in preseason camp; enough to field a varsity but not quite enough to fill out a JV roster. Quintana is determined to give it a few more days in hopes of landing a group of newcomers but said, “if it doesn’t happen soon we’ll probably have to call it [off].”
Of the 30 in camp, not all are able to play. At least two key returners are nursing injuries that will keep them sidelined through the first two weeks of the regular season. A few more have nagging ailments that range from simple eligibility to health issues.
“The numbers are getting lower and lower,” Quintana said. “It’s getting harder to build a team like that. Kids just aren’t coming out like they used to.”
That’s especially not good considering what lies ahead. A challenging nondistrict schedule that includes four straight games out of the gate reveals they’ll likely be the underdog in each of them. On top of that is a District 2/5A slate that has two of Class 4A’s top teams in defending state champ Taos and perennial beast Albuquerque St. Pius.
Quintana is leaving the defensive responsibilities to new coordinator Simon Fell. The two worked together a year ago so anything more than a few minor tweaks is all anyone can forecast. The biggest shift comes on offense, which Quintana will run himself as head coach/offensive coordinator.
He will platoon quarterbacks with senior Arlen Garcia and sophomore Ollie Fell, Simon’s son. Garcia is more of a run-first option while the 6-foot-5 Fell is more of a true passer.
Quintana said it will take a few weeks to see who — or if — the top option at quarterback will be. It’s entirely likely that they’ll platoon the entire season because what stands in front of them is an offensive line that is down three starters from a year ago.
There is only one projected starter on the O-line who tips the scales at more than 200 pounds, and none of the five is walking into camp with much experience.
“That’s our biggest area of concern, right there,” Quintana admits. “Every day we’re in there working with them on technique and responsibilities. It’s tough.”
The running back is actually a three-headed beast in the form of senior Gabriel Quintana, a 225-pound bruiser, senior Kebin Marquez and junior Aaron Altimarano. Marquez is arguably the team’s most valuable player but he’s one of those returners still nursing an offseason injury. He’s not expected to see any playing time until the third or fourth game of the season.
“Our skill guys are the strength of our team right now,” Quintana said. “We’re kind of waiting for a couple of other guys to get back into the mix. Until then we’re doing the best with what we’ve got.”