AZTEC — High school football kicks off in 41 days, and District 1-4A powerhouse Aztec High still doesn't quite know who will replace Adam Lucero at quarterback.
The Tigers have the tough task of replacing a quarterback who NMPreps.com named Mr. Football in 2012 and who delivered a state championship in 2011, a feat Aztec hadn't accomplished in 58 years. Two candidates have emerged, but nobody is wearing the No. 12 jersey that has been synonymous with the Aztec starting quarterback for several years.
"Nobody has claimed that number just yet. That jersey has had a nice run of very talented quarterbacks over the last decade," said Aztec's second-year head coach Matt Steinfeldt. "We aren't even thinking about that. Our concern is finding the right candidate who can step in and run the offense."
Juniors Marcus Crawford and Garrett Heyden are the top contenders to earn the starting job behind center. Crawford was Lucero's varsity backup a season ago and saw limited playing time at Goddard High after Lucero left the game with an injury.
"Crawford has the most experience, but that doesn't mean he has a lot of experience," Steinfeldt said. "Him having that extra year at quarterback working with myself and going over the plays certainly gives him more of an advantage."
Crawford is a taller quarterback while Heyden is a shorter, left-handed passer.
"The biggest thing for us at that position is learning the offense. It is a very cerebral offense. As a quarterback, it is necessary to come in and learn every day," Steinfeldt said. "The candidate who will emerge as the starter is the one that will spend the most time writing down plays, watching film and taking notes. Being a large critic of themselves is a big thing. The player has to put responsibility on himself."
Aztec is also working with several new coaches this season, including a new defensive coordinator Herb Stinson, who replaces Mike Kovacs.
"We pretty much have an all new staff this year. Stinson is back, and he is a local legend as a defensive coordinator and wrestling coach," Steinfeldt said. "We shuffled the staff quite a bit, and we are extremely excited about the new faces. ... The team and the coaches have developed a great camaraderie with each other over the course of the summer."
Steinfeldt also hopes to expand on his offensive playbook in his second year with the Tigers. Before arriving in Aztec, he served as the offensive coordinator of Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colo.
"If you look at our team last season, we were back doing a five-step drop probably 25 percent of the time. We are trying to do more things this year and be more creative," he said.
The offense will focus heavily on the talents of running back Ryneal Lewis-Adams, who came on strong late last year in his junior season.
"I have been very impressed by Ryneal. He is very talented," Steinfeldt said. "We were fortunate enough last year with Brad Hardin, who was such a great athlete over the course of the season that we redeveloped an offensive package for him because he would run the ball, run block and receive the ball very well. Ryneal is a different type athlete, but he will have that type of role. We can use him in multiple areas, but obviously he is a phenomenal running back. One of the best in the state."
Steinfeldt said the team has relied heavily on the leadership skills of Matt Stalcup, Justin Slavey and Avery Mobley in summer workouts.
Several young players are going to be forced to step up throughout the season as the Tigers look to replace a deep class of seniors who have graduated.
"We had nine players go both ways last year. Most were seniors," Steinfeldt said. "Guys like Jake and Josh Harris, the twins, are going to have to factor in quite a bit."
Aztec will play more 7-on-7 scrimmages next week, beginning at 6 p.m. Monday at Piedra Vista as seven teams will take the field. The Tigers travel back to Bloomfield on Thursday where six more teams will attend before heading to Rio Rancho on Saturday to run 7-on-7s with Cleveland and Rio Rancho. After that, the Tigers will get a lot of down time until Aug. 5 ,when two-a-days begin.John Livingston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; 505-564-4648. Follow him on Twitter @jlivi2.