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KIRTLAND – The Kirtland Central Broncos were excited to make some strides in 2016, but they struggled to regulate their emotions when the bigger games arrived.

When things went well, KC sometimes lost track of the task at hand in those moments. When things went awry, players got a bit discouraged by it.

Now that the Broncos got a taste of 5A playoff football last year, their third playoff berth overall since 2008, they're regaining that sense of what it's like to handle competing at that level.

"We have a gap we're trying to diminish between us, Farmington, Aztec and Miyamura," coach Greg Jenks said. "I wish I had the magic pill, the Urban Meyer effect. I wish I knew how to come in first year, right away have success. (But we're) building one brick at a time. (2016) was a brick we were able to build with, that experience."

The Broncos won four of their first five games in 2016, but it was an up-and-down season from there. Kirtland Central (6-5 last year, 2-3 in District 1-5A) lost 60-10 at Los Lunas in the opening round of the 5A playoffs.

"I think that we just weren't mentally ready for what was going to happen. We had a lot of young players last year," quarterback Bryson Dowdy said.

Dowdy also said KC had too many moments where they were either consumed by adrenaline or overthinking things and getting overwhelmed by what was happening.

"We were too amped up, and it bit us in the butt," Dowdy said.

Dowdy said the Broncos spent this summer working on keeping emotions under control, no matter the situation.

On offense, Kirtland Central looks to have its wide receivers run better routes.

"Our receivers have to be a bigger threat this year," Jenks said.

Dowdy said he hopes the offense can generate more breakaway runs and nice, long receptions.

On defense, the Broncos look to have all 11 players be more aggressive in pursuing the ball and also break bad individual habits on the field.

"We expect a lot of tackling. Everyone needs to be on the ball. Compared to last year, we need to have a lot of pressure," outside linebacker Dionte Yazzie said.

Kirtland Central returns multiple starters on offense, including Dowdy, offensive linemen Cadyn Hartsfield, Nick Ellison and Tyrell Clyde. Players like wide-outs Brock Beckstead and Jordan Heslop will also return this year.

Key returners on defense include Yazzie, outside linebacker Isaac Thomas and cornerback-turned-defensive end Cochise Sorrelhouse.

The Broncos will open the new season at 6 p.m. next Friday at Arizona's Snowflake High.

"We're handling our emotions better. We're getting there slowly, but we learned from the (2016) playoffs, of course," Yazzie said.

Matt Hollinshead covers sports for the Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577.

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