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This spring, the Broncos hired former Farmington football assistant Greg Jenks as head football coach. A new coaching staff usually comes with an overhaul in team strategy, and that has been the case for the Broncos.

"I've seen the typical growing pains because the system is new and different," Jenks said. "It's really not different football, it's just learning all the different language our staff is teaching them versus what they're used to."

The Broncos went 5-6 last season and 4-1 in District 1-4A. They got off to a rough start, losing four of their first five games, but then reeled off four straight wins to start their district schedule. They gave up only six combined points in those four victories.

Kirtland's top three players in all-purpose yards from a season ago - Bryceson Arthur, Josh Belin and Davidson Wyatt - have graduated. So in addition to a new system, the team needs to find new offensive playmakers.

Part of that responsibility falls on quarterback Riley Hamblin, who will be the starting signal-caller for the first time.

Much like his teammates, Hamblin is learning a lot every day. A positive part of the senior's learning process has been his comfort with Jenks' offensive playbook, which calls for plenty of balance between passing and running the ball.

"The offense is actually pretty simple for me because it's pretty similar to what a lot of us did in little league," Hamblin said.

Speed is among Hamblin's assets, and the former wide receiver said he thinks the Broncos will be faster this year.

"Our backfield is probably the fastest it has been since I've been in high school," Hamblin said. "I think our (offensive) line is going to be fast and quicker on their feet than last year, too."

One speedy member of the backfield who Hamblin will hand off to is Aiden Cockrell. The senior scored five touchdowns in only 37 carries last season and should see a lot more touches this year.

The three-year varsity starting running back said he's embracing his role as a leader. "I'm doing my absolute best to show the younger guys how to carry themselves like winners," he said.

Cockrell will also be the team's starting middle linebacker and is looking to put his improved defensive awareness on display.

"The longer you play and the longer you start, the smarter you get, I think," Cockrell said. "Knowing how to seek things out and being able to read and react is something I feel I can do."

Still, Jenks said, the team needs to improve its physicality. He mentioned harking back to the hard-nosed style of play favored by former Kirtland coach Bill Cawood, a member of the New Mexico High School Coaches Association Hall of Honor.

"Getting more physical as a unit is our No. 1 focus right now," Jenks said. "We want to get back to the Coach Cawood era of bringing the wood."

In district play last season, Bloomfield was the only team to beat Kirtland. Just like any other program, Jenks said his goal as coach is to win a district title.

"We believe we can win a district this year," he said. "We're glad that Shiprock and Bloomfield are our last two regular season games. We should be firing on all cylinders by then. We had better be ready for those games."

But long before the Broncos face off against their district foes, they will host Bayfield, Colo., in their first game Aug. 28.

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