FARMINGTON — The high school football season in San Juan County kicks off with a marquee matchup of two premier teams.
The 2013 4A champion Farmington will take on No. 3 Los Lunas at Hutchison Stadium as both teams begin their first season at the 5A level.
Both teams will have to break in new players after each graduated its starting quarterback, along with its leading rusher and receiver.
For the Scorps, Diego Elebario will be the new guy under center, replacing Jacob Lucas. FHS head coach Gary Bradley said he's confident going into the season with the junior leading the offense.
"He's looking good, working hard and studying the game," Bradley said of Elebario. "He did a great job last year with our scout team and as a backup. He learned a lot from Jacob about the whole process of running the offense. He fits in real well."
Farmington will also look for players like Chayton Salcido, Danny Simkins and Avery Rasher to step up and replace the rushing and receiving production of 2014 graduates Brian Farley, Austin Foutz and Kyle Reynolds.
"Looking at the make up of our team right now, a lot of those guys played in different positions last year," Bradley said. "Chayton started at corner and didn't play much offense until the end. Danny Simkins played at the end last year, but not a whole lot at the beginning. Those guys have some experience, but the light just wasn't shining on them last year. They are kind of nameless right now, and that's fine. They really don't care about that too much. They just have to fit their role this year and form their own identity."
Bradley knows there will be a few bumps in the road early in the season with so many new faces. He said his team will rely on the experience in the offensive and defensive lines to set the tone for the year.
"Every year — regardless of whether they're coming back or not — we'll only go as far as they take us," Bradley said of his linemen. "These guys are pretty athletic this year and are a tight-knit bunch."
While FHS will have some early questions with its new players in new spots, Los Lunas also comes into the game with many of those same concerns.
The Tigers will look to replace nearly all of their offensive production from 2013.
Quarterback and All-State linebacker Darren Gallegos, All-State running back Jalen Chavez and All-State receiver Jacob Holland graduated, and Bradley said the turnover at those positions makes a team like Los Lunas a "mystery" to prepare for.
"That area with Belen, Valencia and Los Lunas has been producing a lot of good football teams for a while now." Bradley said. "You look and it might not be the same names, but the kids are big and athletic, and you can tell they just have a passion for playing the game."
Adding to the mystery of Los Lunas is a change in head coaches.
Terrell Trantham takes over the reigns from Duane Toliver after Toliver guided the Tigers to a 9-3 year and an appearance in the semifinals a year ago.
Bradley said he is familiar with Trantham after his time as a Belen and Mayfield assistant.
"I know the coach real well after coaching with him a little bit at Mayfield," Bradley said. "He's a real good coach, and he's nothing new to success."
Aztec at Bloomfield
Aztec and Bloomfield open their 2014 football seasons at Bobcat Stadium by renewing a rivalry that's been dormant for the past couple of years.
The two schools haven't matched up since 2011 when both teams were in District 1-4A, a game in which Aztec came up with the 54-14 victory.
Both programs have undergone changes since that contest. Aztec begins its first year as a 5A squad, while Bloomfield returns to 4A for the first time since 2011.
Aztec will try to return to the playoffs after missing postseason play a year ago for the first time since 2002, finishing at 4-6.
Bloomfield will have a new head coach as Bob Allcorn takes over the Bobcats from former coach Bruce Hatch. Allcorn previously had the head job at Moriarty.
The Bobcats made the 3A quarterfinals in 2013 as the No. 4 seed, but lost a home playoff game to No. 5 Taos 49-14.
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Piedra Vista at San Juan (Utah)
Piedra Vista will try to make it back to the postseason in 2014 after a first-round exit last year and that journey begins with an out-of-state road trip.
The Panthers open with San Juan High School out of Blanding, Utah.
PV will look to a young group of running backs early in the season to take the place of Beau Clafton after the 2014 graduate earned All-State honors at four positions last year.
San Juan High has the advantage of already playing a game this season.
The 2A Utah school opened its season last week with a 44-7 victory over 1A Monticello, Utah.
Senior Trason Jack and junior Bronz Eldredge both scored a touchdown rushing and receiving in the victory for San Juan.
Junior quarterback Payton Palmer had 214 yards through the air along with three touchdowns to lead the Broncos to the win.
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Kirtland Central at Bayfield (Colo.)
Bayfield is implementing a new offensive scheme this season with junior quarterback Kelton McCoy taking the majority of the snaps out of the shotgun.
The new-look Wolverines will be sending players in motion to try to create confusion for the Kirtland Central defense while attacking through the air, opposed to previous seasons when the gameplan was to keep it between the hashes with a power running game.
In running a new offensive scheme, there is always a period of adjustment, which could play into Kirtland's biggest strength — it's defense.
During Bayfield's preseason scrimmage that saw starting lineman Zane Westbrook leave with a sprained knee, the Wolverines struggled with the shotgun snaps, which is sure to have the Bronco's Isaac Decker and Jacob Belin, who were first and second on the team in total tackles last season respectively, ready to wreck havoc in the Wolverine backfield.
Laguna Acoma at Navajo Prep
Navajo Prep head coach Rod Denetso wanted to beef up the schedule in 2014 and his team will be tested right off the bat when it hosts Laguna Acoma in the opener.
Both teams moved to 3A this season, after reaching the 2A quarterfinals in 2013.
Prep defeated No. 9 NMMI in the first round before falling to top-seed Santa Rosa.
Laguna Acoma was the No. 7 seed and beat No. 10 Texico 38-7 before falling to No. 2 Hatch Valley 49-24.
The Hawks will attempt to pound the Prep defense on the ground with First Team All-State running back David McGee.
The Eagles offensive success will rely on the arm of Second Team All-State quarterback Tyler Sorensen.
Sorensen returns for his senior year after throwing over 4,000 yards and 51 touchdowns as a junior.
The Prep quarterback will look to work in a new group of receivers after his top three targets — Mika Mauga, Isaiah Yazzie and Alex Danzuka — graduated.