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Shiprock is one year from a 3-7 season. With two of those wins coming via forfeit, first-year head coach Eric Stovall has been working to change the culture of the program.

"It starts first with Chieftain brotherhood," Stovall said. "Every day we work to develop a cohesive family unit. And it's definitely coming along."

The team is buying into Stovall's family mentality, at least early on. Senior running back Julian Aspass said the team wasn't always on the same page last season, and he welcomes a culture change.

"Stovall actually pulled us together as a team and reminded us to do everything as a team," Aspass said. "In the past years, we were just falling apart at the end of the season. We stopped communicating on the field and stuff like that."

As for the on-the-field product, Stovall wants to pick up the tempo on offense.

"We're going to throw the ball around a lot," he said. "We're going to go no-huddle a lot, and we're going to work as hard as we can offensively, not only to execute fundamentally, but also to score a lot of touchdowns."

For that up-tempo offense to succeed, senior starting quarterback Arjay Miller will need to pick up the pace, something he said he's comfortable doing.

"I like it. I like running more plays," he said. "I'd say we're going to pass the ball around more and run a lot more dink-and-dunk type stuff. I think it's going good so far; it fits me."

Stovall said Miller has many of the attributes needed to make his offense work.

"He has a great arm, and he has good instincts," Stovall said. "He's got some speed, he's not afraid to run the ball downhill. He understands what we're doing in this system and in this offense."

Pace and speed will also be important to Shiprock's defense, according to Stovall. "We want to put seven or eight hats on the ball carrier as much as possible," he said. "Attacking on defense is something we want to do. Special teams is an important concept to what we do, too."

Along with Aspass and Miller, center and defensive tackle Zander Dale is also expected to be a leader on the field.

"Zander just leads by example in the trenches," Stovall said of the senior. "He makes sure kids are properly doing their assignments. I've seen some good things from him."

Dale said Stovall stresses a more disciplined brand of football than the previous regime. "He's more disciplined for sure. He does his best to make sure we limit mistakes," Dale said. "He's more about teamwork and overcoming adversity than he is about stuff on the field; mind over matter."

Stovall aspires to win a District 1-4A title this year. In what he perceives as a "wide open district," he doesn't think that's too ambitious.

"I think the district is balanced, and I think we got our work cut out, but we're going to shoot for the high mark," he said. "We want to try and win the district championship, that's our goal."

While Stovall's work isn't limited to what happens on the football field, he said that's where the end goal lies.

"We have to focus on the little things," Stovall said. "That includes the academics, the behavior standard, the brotherhood standard and then fundamentally getting better so we can compete at the highest level once district play starts."

Shiprock opens its season at home against Socorro on Aug. 28.

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