Tigers football looking forward to new season, opening game against Miyamura Aug. 20

Stovall is excited about the season ahead, and can see that same excitement from his players on the practice field and his assistant coaches.

Steven Bortstein
Farmington Daily Times
Aztec football coach Eric Stovall encourages players on the sideline during practice on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021, at Fred Cook Memorial Stadium in Aztec.

AZTEC — Sometimes, a return to what we know is a comfort, and can lead to bigger and better things.

That's what Aztec Tigers head football coach Eric Stovall is hoping for as he and the team prepare for their opening game on Aug. 20, a showdown at Fred Cook Memorial Stadium with Miyamura High School, ironically the only team the Tigers beat in a shortened, 5-game season that played out in the middle of spring.

The Tigers, representing District 1, Class 4A in the New Mexico Activities Association's statewide classifications for football, are back in pads and helmets as practices get underway and are looking to get the program back on track.

Aztec football has been one of the most revered programs in the county and the state in recent years. Prior to this truncated 2021 spring campaign, the Tigers hadn't gone through a losing season since 2015. It's just 10 years removed from the Tigers state championship run in 2011, in which they finished off a perfect 13-0 season and a Class 4A state title win over Goddard.

Stovall is entering his second season as Tigers head football coach, having previously coached at Newcomb and Shiprock. Prior to that, Stovall was an assistant coach for Aztec during that 2011 season. Stovall took over the head coaching job in January, 2020, replacing Matt Steinfeldt, who stepped down after eight seasons.

"There's such a tradition of great football in this town, from the high school level down to the youth leagues," Stovall said. "We're looking forward to getting back to that level of greatness."

Stovall is excited about the season ahead, and can see that same excitement from his players on the practice field and his assistant coaches. 

"Getting back to the business of football is what is most exciting," Stovall said this week after practice. "The kids are eager, and it's good to be back to some level of where want to be."

Last spring, while preparing for a shortened season and playing in front of only a handful of fans, if any at times due to restrictions on crowds during coronavirus, was one of several challenges the Tigers faced.

"I'm really proud of my coaches and my team last season as far as their resilience," Stovall said. "Everyone in the county overcame tremendous hurdles and different challenges."

The challenge right now for Stovall, and it's one he's happy to face as a coach, is to determine which of his players on the practice fields, will be ready to go when the season opens.

"We've got a couple of really good options at quarterback," Stovall said. "Landon Frost and Marcquis Henry are two we're excited about. We're going to keep developing those kids and have them ready to go."

Stovall recognized the challenges his team faced last season, in particular the wait for what turned out to be such a unique season of football.

"It was tougher last spring, simply because of timing. Football season is in the fall, so we faced challenges and difficulties getting kids onto the field," Stovall said. "As we got through the season, we did the best we could to overcome those obstacles."

What makes this upcoming season already a bit more normal is the return to regular practices and training. 

"Every season is a challenge, but now we have more time in the weight room, we have less protocols that we have to adhere to," Stovall said. 

Other players Stovall is expecting big things from this season include Tristen McNeal, who showed flashes of brilliance last season on both sides of the ball, as well as defensive back Baylor Seabolt and offensive/defensive linemen Brody Dalton and Kayden Lee.

"A lot of those kids have really taken the charge to lead us and have done some great things," Stovall said.

Participation thus far has been strong as well, particularly with the less-restrictive rules regarding practices and preparation during the week.

"We've got good numbers on the practice field now, and we'll add some more as the school year opens up," Stovall said. "Getting these kids to hone their skills has really been a good thing."

Aztec Tigers 2021 football schedule 

Fri., August 20 – Miyamura at Aztec 

Fri., August 27 – Montezuma-Cortez at Aztec 

Fri., September 3 – Aztec at Durango 

Fri., September 10 – Farmington at Aztec 

Fri., September 17 – Bayfield at Aztec 

Fri., September 24 – Aztec at St. Pius 

Fri., October 1 – Aztec at Shiprock 

Fri., October 8 – Aztec at Gallup 

Fri., October 15 – Bloomfield at Aztec 

Fri., October 22 – Aztec at Kirtland Central  

Steve Bortstein can be reached via email at SBortstein@Gannett.com, via Twitter @DTSBortstein or on the phone at (505) 635-2680