Football 2015 preview: Aztec looks to reload and recapture district title
The Aztec Tigers have their sights set on another District 1-5A title.
The team finished last year with an 8-3 record and rolled through its district schedule 4-0 for the title. The Tigers earned the No. 5 seed in the 5A state playoffs and reached the quarterfinals before falling to No. 4 Goddard.
But after losing 21 seniors from last year's roster, this year's Tigers are a different squad.
Gone are starting quarterback Marcus Crawford, who threw for 2,670 yards; wide receiver Josh Harris, who pulled in 73 receptions for 1,548 yards and 27 touchdowns on his way to first team All-State honors; and second team All-State linebacker Jake Harris.
Despite that, Aztec head coach Matthew Steinfeldt believes the Tigers will reload, rather than rebuild, this season.
"I don't think rebuilding is appropriate. Expectations are always high for us," Steinfeldt said. "I think this district will be very competitive, and I expect to be there with everyone else."
This season marks Steinfeldt's fourth, making this the first senior class to spend its entire high school career with him at the helm.
While this year's squad lacks experience compared to last year's team, Steinfeldt said, they have a strong grasp on the offensive and defensive schemes.
"I'm very excited about this football team," Steinfeldt said. "What I see day in and day out, in meetings, on the field, is a great savviness. They understand what we're trying to do schematically, and they apply it very well."
Offensively, the Tigers will stick to the spread offense, throwing around the ball with sophomore Cody Smith likely getting the starting quarterback job.
The sophomore will come into the season at 6 feet 1 1/2 inches tall and 215 pounds. That will give the Tigers the size and arm strength to work in the pocket, and Smith's athleticism will allow him to tuck the ball and hurt opposing defenses with his legs.
Smith will have a dangerous weapon on the outside in senior wide receiver Dylan Sutherland.
In the three games Sutherland played last season before breaking his foot, he pulled in 26 catches for 326 yards. In a game Sept. 5 against Durango, Colo., he set a state record for receptions in a game with 15, though that record was broken three weeks later when Las Cruces' Aeneas Reynolds caught 18 passes against Centennial.
"We look to him to really factor in on our offense and defense," Steinfeldt said of Sutherland, who will also start at linebacker. "His performance has been outstanding so far, and he's going to be a good football player on both sides of the ball."
Steinfeldt also expects senior receiver and defensive back Derek Baca to take on more of a leadership role in his final year with the Tigers. Baca started for the first half of the 2014 season at defensive back before breaking his wrist.
"I think we're going to be solid. We have a lot of speed," Baca said. "I think it's going to be a good run for the district. We'll just have to see how it goes."
Sutherland agreed, saying this year's Tigers could be better than those last season.
But, right now, he's looking forward to the first game of the season on Aug. 28 against Bloomfield, when he can hit someone other than his teammates.
"We've been hitting each other for about a week and a half now, and we still have a couple weeks left," Sutherland said. "We're ready to play some people already."