'I always wanted to come back:' Strauss takes over as Aztec High's head football coach
AZTEC — Aztec High School graduate and former Tigers assistant coach Hank Strauss has accepted the position as head coach of the Aztec football team, according to the school's athletic director Bryan Sanders.
Strauss played for the Tigers football team from 2007 to 2010 before graduating and playing college football at both Cabrillo College in California and Chadron State College in Nebraska. After that, Strauss served as an assistant coach at both the high school and college level before returning to Aztec as an assistant in 2019.
Sanders said the decision to promote Strauss to the position of head coach came after a search involving more than a dozen candidates.
"We reviewed several applications and decided on a list of three candidates to interview for the job," Sanders said. "We had a committee which helped with the process and (Strauss) stood out as our best option."
As a player at Aztec, Strauss was a two-time All-Class 4A player and District 1-4A Defensive Player of the Year as a senior in 2010. Strauss played in 45 games at Aztec High and racked up 272 tackles and 11 sacks in his four seasons, which included state championship bids against Goddard in 2008 Artesia in 2010.
Strauss worked as an assistant coach at schools in Nebraska before returning to Aztec and working as defensive coordinator for head coaches Matt Steinfeldt in the 2018-19 seasons and Eric Stovall in 2020-2021.
"The hiring was really looking at the big picture of our community," Sanders said. "(Strauss) has a history here and a lot of passion and experience both on the field and sidelines."
Strauss takes over for Stovall, who announced his decision to step down last month after two seasons on the job.
The Tigers finished last season with a record of 3-8 and were knocked out of the state Class 4A football playoffs when they lost at Ruidoso by a final of 35-7.
Since 2014, the Tigers have failed to advance beyond the second round of the state football playoffs. The 29-year-old Strauss believes the team is ready to reclaim some of its past glory.
"It's a big thing to me," Strauss said. "I always wanted to come back, and seeing where the program was and where we want it to be moving forward."
The Tigers are a young football team which will be bringing back several key components next season, including quarterback Landan Frost and wide receivers Tristen McNeal, Marcquis Henry and Baylor Seabolt, who combined to catch for more than 1000 yards and 13 touchdowns last season.
"Bringing back the tradition and getting the boys to have a little more insight into what it was like when we were competing at a higher level is really important for me," Strauss said.
Strauss is hopeful for the future of the football program, but acknowledged the difficulties the team had in the past couple seasons, especially as it related to the pandemic-related shutdown and limitations on practices and participation.
"Getting football back on the right track has been a big deal in this community," Strauss said. "COVID was tough for everyone around, and here in Aztec as well, so if we can get the team back to where we once were, I think that will mean a lot for the community."
Steve Bortstein can be reached via email at SBortstein@Gannett.com, via Twitter @DTSBortstein or on the phone at (505) 635-2680.