FARMINGTON — Although the Piedra Vista football team reached the playoffs a year ago, it will have to rely on some young players if it is to make a return trip in 2014.
Beau Clafton, who was named to four 2013 All-State roster slots, and three-year starting quarterback Isaiah Valdez graduated, putting the bulk of the offense into the hands of a group of underclassmen.
PV head coach Jared Howell is expecting the young guys to step up and fill the big shoes of his former standouts.
"We'll just take our better athletes and put them there," Howell said.
Junior Ryan Montoya and sophomore Alex Shay have battled it out in camp to see who will be the starting quarterback in place of Valdez, and it's likely both will see snaps at the position throughout the early part of the season.
"We knew Isaiah was going to be gone, so we've tried to prepare for that," Howell said. "We've had a good little quarterback battle going on with Ryan Montoya and Alex Shay, and we've had a new kid come in as a third string guy in Trent Thomas who might work his way in there. We've got a nice battle, and I'm not sure we've been able to settle on a true No. 1 yet."
After Clafton received the bulk of the offensive touches a year ago, the Panthers will have a more balanced attack heading into this season.
"We won't have the speed of a Beau Clafton out there, but we've got some good sophomore kids that run well and are athletic," the PV coach said. "They can put yards on people if we block and do the fundamentals."
While PV may be inexperienced at the skill positions, it has some solid players returning on the offensive and defensive lines.
Senior tackle and defensive end Tanner Hunt said he's expecting the Panther upperclassmen in the trenches to set the tone early in the season.
"We're definitely well-rounded and have a lot of depth," Hunt said of the line's strengths. "Overall, I feel like we are a really solid unit."
Given the choice, Howell said he'd rather have the experience on the lines heading into the year.
"If they don't go, then nobody does," he said of his lineman. "We're looking for them to have that experience shine through."
Among a handful of PV players providing experience in the skill areas will be senior Grayson Tracy, who is expected to start in the secondary and see time at wide receiver.
Tracy said the key will be for players both young and older to learn from each other and improve during the season.
"We're feeling good. It takes a lot of hard work," he said. "Our role as seniors is to lead them, but also to learn from them, because we have a lot of talented guys who know how to play football."
The Panthers will have to come out of the gates strong as they face a brutal non-district slate of opponents.
After opening on the road against San Juan High in Blanding, Utah, PV will travel to 4A runner-up Goddard before hosting Durango, Colo., and Moriarty.
The Panthers close out the non-district portion of the schedule with Kirtland Central and Roswell, then open District 1-5A play with rival Farmington on Oct. 10.
PV faced six of their 10 2014 opponents last year, going 3-3 with victories against Miyamura, Aztec and Kirtland Central, while losing to Farmington, Durango and Moriarty.