FARMINGTON — In the midst of homecoming week and the largest winning streak in years for Piedra Vista, it is easy to focus on the future and state playoff expectations for the Panthers.
But it is important to focus on where the story of the 2012 Piedra Vista football team began.
Few outside of the PV locker room would have expected the Panthers to be standing at 5-0 and ranked No. 4 in the 4A classification with a very winnable game against Bernalillo set for Friday's homecoming game.
Junior quarterback Isaiah Valdez had the feeling all along, though, saying there was a clear shift in mindset during the offseason. They knew exactly which direction they were trending going into the 2012 season, despite a 5-5 finish in 2011 and 3-7 record in 2010 with many of the same players.
Before it all began, the PV players knew they had the potential for a special team if the right changes were made.
“We evaluated our system last year at the end of the season and saw that we were not running the ball the way we needed to,” said PV head coach Jared Howell. “We were an option-based team when the school first opened, so we decided to go back to our roots and found what we could do to fit the personnel we have.
“We have been good at screen passes, so we kept that. Now we have added this option component in there and the vertical passing game that we have the ability to do, and now we are putting a lot of pressure points on opposing defenses.”
Howell was afraid the changes would be hard to sell, but his returning play makers were anxious to do whatever Howell thought might help the team improve upon its poor finishes in previous seasons.
“We were worried about selling the offensive changes to the kids. We were a spread team and we thought kids might be down about us not throwing the ball as much,” Howell said. “But if you can't run the ball, nothing works. The kids went on faith and bought into that. Valdez and wide receiver Bryson Martinez were our connection last year, but they both said they wanted to win games and we told them what we needed to do to win games and they bought it.”
It is the job of every high school coach to fit their system to the personnel available but, so far, Howell has had the most success in the Four Corners in 2012.
“A ton of credit goes to our coaches,” Martinez said. “The offense was changed to better fit our personnel, and the same goes to our defensive coaches.
“I also think a lot of the credit goes to our seniors and team in general. We have bought in and put in the necessary hours to learn both phases of the game.”
Not only have the Panthers bought in, they have understood the new system and executed it to near perfection.
Valdez is making checks at the line of scrimmage and making smart decisions with the option running game and on deep passes. Howell said Valdez has become a coach on the field, helping him feel at ease on the sidelines.
The Panthers are truly a team this year in every sense of the word. When asking a player about his big game, the only answer will be a deflection to give credit to another player or the offensive line, which returned four of five starters from last season.
The offense has been inspired by the play of the defense, and the same can be said in reverse.
“It is amazing. To be able to watch our offense go make big plays and score all the points there are, it makes us excited to get back out on the field and make plays on defense. It makes us feel unstoppable,” said PV senior Wyatt Hardy. “Since our freshman year, we have only lost four or five guys that we have been playing with. This is the same core we have had and we have a ton of chemistry.”
Having that chemistry has made it easy for each player to focus on their individual job rather than one or two players trying to make every tackle.
“After all the summer workouts we went through and practices we have done together through the years, it isn't hard to trust each other. It is hard not to trust each other,” said linebacker Kason Wilkinson.
PV has also learned from District 1-4A rival Aztec and the Tigers' recent success in the state playoffs, including the 4A state championship victory in 2011.
“We have mostly learned from their mentality. The mentality that we are going to line up and beat the person opposite of us,” Martinez said. “I feel it is absolutely crucial to have a confidence to where you feel all the work you have put in puts you in the position to beat anyone you play.”
It remains to be seen if PV can handle powerhouse teams ahead of them in the rankings such as No. 1 Goddard and No. 2 Artesia. We don't even know if PV will get past No. 6 Aztec in district yet. But when they do face the challenge, you can bet these Panthers and their steady stable of weapons will be ready.
“These guys are going to push me and each other to do do bigger and better stuff,” Valdez said. “These guys will fight for me and fight for the team, and we are ready to keep the train going.”