Following an up-and-down 2015 season that was cursed by injuries, the Aztec football team is once again healthy and deeper than previous versions, opening the door for an improved season in 2016

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FARMINGTON — It was a seesaw season for the Aztec football team in 2015.

The Tigers went from profound lows to stratospheric highs, then back and forth again before their injury-plagued season ended with a 4-7 record.

Last season, Aztec dropped its first two games by a combined 49 points, then trounced Kirtland Central by 49 before dropping its final three games of the nondistrict schedule by an average of 25 points per game. Entering the District 1-5A schedule, with seemingly no postseason hopes remaining, the Tigers rebounded and went 3-1 to finish second in the district and steal one of the final playoff spots in 5A.

Now, with less than a week left before the season kicks off, Aztec is hoping its success in the second half of last season will provide the team with a boost going into its tough nondistrict schedule.

“This year’s nondistrict (schedule) has five opponents, and all five were in their state playoffs last year. Two were semifinalists, and one (Colorado’s Bayfield) was a state champion. Any time you go through that type of schedule, it’s going to prepare you for the second half of the season,” Tigers head coach Matthew Steinfeldt said. “Winning those games (last season) and competing for the district title was a huge confidence boost for the guys because a lot of them were underclassmen.”

Under the direction of Steinfeldt, Aztec has leaned heavily on its passing game. Back to lead the attack this year will be quarterback Cody Smith, who won the starting job last season as a sophomore. Smith threw for 2,841 yards with 25 touchdowns and 11 interceptions while running for 425 yards and 11 scores last season.

“I got a lot of experience last year. Now that I got to play as a sophomore, I have a lot more poise and confidence coming into this year,” Smith said. “I have a new offensive line that I’m really comfortable with and a lot of good receivers I’m really comfortable with, as well.”

Both Steinfeldt and Smith said the Tigers are deeper at the skill positions this year, which will open up the offense for the junior quarterback.

Steinfeldt is also optimistic that this year’s squad will present more of a threat in the running game after the Tigers had to play their fifth and sixth running backs on the depth chart a year ago as the result of numerous injuries.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Tigers looked poised for considerable improvement after giving up almost 40 points per game last season.

The team’s defensive mentality will be a different this year. Steinfeldt said he wants the Tigers to play more aggressively so they can dictate the game.

Leading the defense will be a solid linebacking corps featuring seniors Brady Moffett, who led the team in tackles last season; Kyler Duggins, who ranked second on the team in sacks; and this year’s team captain, Brandon Trennepohl.

“I feel like everything is running extremely smoothly,” Trennepohl said of the defense. “I think we’re better as a defensive unit this year. Everyone pals around, and we’re having fun, and that’s what it’s all about.”

The Aztec defense will be tested right away, welcoming Los Lunas and ESPN 300 recruit O’Maury Samuels, a 5-foot-11, 190-pound running back who has committed to the University of Michigan, for the season opener on Friday at Fred Cook Memorial Stadium.

“We just have to keep it together and keep a cool head,” Trennepohl said. “We have to rally to the ball. That’s how we’re going to win games this year.”

Karl Schneider is the sports editor for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4648.

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