Eagles face many changes entering 2016 season

Karl Schneider
  • After winning four straight district titles, Navajo Prep faces a tough test in the move to 4A
  • Victory Crawford becomes Navajo Prep's third football coach in the last three seasons
  • Under Crawford, the Eagles will stick to pass-first mentality on offense

FARMINGTON — No other football team in the area will face as many changes this season as Navajo Prep.

Navajo Prep head coach Victor Crawford talks to his players during practice on Tuesday at Navajo Prep.

Reclassification shook up classes and districts, and Prep wasn’t immune to the changes, moving from 3A to 4A. But along with the new class, the Eagles are also entering the season with new head coach Victor Crawford taking over.

Crawford is the third coach at the helm at Prep in as many years. Learning a new system is a challenge for any team, but the difficult task is compounded for the Eagles, as most of the players live out of town during the summer, so they don't have the advantage of being able to get together for unofficial practices.

The Eagles finished last season 5-5 and won their fourth consecutive district title. Prep should remain competitive in its new district — District 1-4A with Shiprock, Thoreau and Wingate — and the team believes another district title isn’t out of reach.

“These guys luckily have won the 2A district and the 3A district, and now we’re in the 4A district. It’s going to be tough, but anything worth accomplishing isn't easy,” Crawford said. “Going up to a new classification is a whole new ball game, and I’m not sure they realize that yet or not, but it’s what I’ve been trying to communicate to them.”

Senior lineman Dylan Begay said one of the main messages he’s been trying to communicate to his teammates has been the need for higher intensity in everything they do.

“It was easy last year because we were at 3A, but this year, since we’re a 4A school, we have to keep the intensity up,” Begay said.

Navajo Prep senior Dylan Begay, left, and junior Alijah Uentillie run drills during football practice on Tuesday at Navajo Prep.

In past seasons, the Eagles have leaned heavily on their passing game, eclipsing more than 1,000 rushing yards as a team only once in the last four seasons. And under Crawford’s direction, the Eagles will remain a pass-first offense.

“I brought in a little bit of a different offense. It’s similar to what they’ve been doing, but with my own twist on it,” Crawford said. “It’s been a little bit difficult implementing that because we don’t really get the summer to work with the kids because so many of them come from out of town.”

Leading the air-it-out offense this season will be Anthony Pioche-Lee, who is moving from the offensive line to quarterback this season. Crawford said there has been a quarterback competition going on over the last few weeks, but Pioche-Lee’s leadership has given him an edge as the season opener approaches.

“It’s been an adjustment, but I expect myself to work my hardest in everything that I do,” Pioche-Lee said of the move to QB. “I feel that we still need some work, but we’re coming together fine. This last scrimmage we had really showed us what we need to work on and improve on.”

Navajo Prep sophomore Kasey James, left, and freshman Jesse Andis battle for a pass during practice on Tuesday at Navajo Prep.

Despite losing Pichol-Lee from the line — a 6-foot-3, 275-pounder who was a team captain last season — Crawford said Prep’s size up front will be its biggest advantage this season.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Eagles will look more aggressive under new coordinator Ernie Kovacs. And again, the size on the defensive line will be Prep’s biggest advantage.

“Our front seven has been looking pretty good,” Crawford said. “They’re big boys, athletic and can move around. We’re going to use those guys to our advantage.”

Prep will open its season on Friday at Kirtland Central, which was moved from 4A to 5A following reclassification.

“If we get that first win against Kirtland on Friday night, it will be huge for us,” Pioche-Lee said. “It would set the tone for the rest of the season because with the new classification they’re a 5A school and we’re 4A. It would be pretty big if we could pull of the win.”

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