KIRTLAND — When it comes to familiarity with second-year head coach Greg Jenks' system and philosophies, the Kirtland Central football team is miles ahead of where it was a year ago.
And that's encouraging for a Broncos squad that will face fiercer competition at the District 1-5A level.
"Just an example, (assistant coach) Brian Dowdy mentions, 'Hey coach Jenks, our linemens' hands and technique with their hands is better now than it was at the end of last year,'" Jenks said. "We've had a whole year for the kids to be listening to the same thing over and over and over again. So at this point they realize absolutely what we're emphasizing."
KC finished 5-5 in 1-4A last year, with four of those wins coming in the final five weeks of the season. Senior lineman Chandler Wagoner said the team understands Jenks' playbook much better now than it did last summer.
"It's way different," Wagoner said. "Last year, we were learning every play, this year we're perfecting those plays and adding in new ones."
"We're just way ahead," added senior running back and linebacker Derek Curley. "We're not spending time on little things, like tackling techniques and stuff. We got that down already."
Like Bloomfield, the Broncos lost their best three running backs from last season as Keishaun Aspaas, Aidan Cockrell and Avery Washburn graduated. But they still have one of last year's rushing leaders.
After Aspaas and Cockrell, quarterback Bryson Dowdy was third on the team in rushing yards last season with 180. To compensate for the loss of the explosive Aspaas-Cockrell duo, Jenks said his junior quarterback could see an uptick in carries this season.
"We definitely plan on utilizing Bryson more," Jenks said. "He's talented, we need to use his talents. He likes to throw it and prefers to throw it, but we do feel like there's times where he can tuck it and go."
Jenks said he feels like a lot of teams in 1-5A like to pass the ball, but despite the loss of a few senior running backs, he doesn't plan to budge from his run-first mentality.
The 5-foot-5, 170-pound Curley is likely to lead the team in carries in 2016. After Curley and Dowdy, sophomores Isaac Thomas, Cadan Flack and Jacob Franco could carve out significant roles for themselves out of the backfield.
"Derek has been one of our leaders in the weight room," Jenks said. "We're really excited about him. We got some youth in the backfield after Derek, but we're excited about it. They have put in the work in the off-season, and they'll do a good job for us."
On top of the run-first offense, the KC linebacker corps should be another one of Kirtland's team identities this year. Curley and senior Donnie Walker have been tackling everything in front of them so far in training camp, thanks in part to the tutelage of the new linebackers' coach JJ Sandoval, who also coaches wrestling at the school.
"Coach Sandoval is a top technician when it comes to linebackers. And that alone is changing our defense," Jenks said. "Getting lots of tackles from the linebacker position is one of our expectations."
As the Broncos prepare for their first season in District 1-5A, the coaching staff has stressed the "anyone is beatable" mantra, according to Wagoner.
The defensive tackle and starting center said coach Dowdy has pointed to Moriarty's 27-26 victory over Farmington in last year's 5A quarterfinals as an example. Moriarty was reclassified into 4A earlier this year.
Wagoner said the team is using that as motivation.
"It doesn't matter if we're the smallest 5A school, we can still win," Wagoner said. "Anything can happen, (Moriarty) showed that in the playoffs."
Jenks said his players should embrace the challenges that await them at the 5A level.
"I've just been trying to spread excitement to the boys," Jenks said. "Why not try to play as tough of competition as you can?"
The Broncos' season gets underway on Friday when Navajo Prep pays them a visit.
Jake Newby covers sports for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577.