The head coach’s feelings do not appear unwarranted, however, given that M-CHS will kick off the season with a senior-laden roster stocked with talented athletes at nearly every position. While the team finished just 2-6 last season, the tide within the program appears to be changing.
“We have a lot of athletes right now,” Conklin said. “We have a lot of kids that can play the game of football. We played a lot of seven-on-seven over the summer against Durango and Bayfield, and going into our first game, we’re in pretty good shape.”
Ike Dennison set to lead offenseOn the offensive side of the ball, M-CHS will be led by quarterback Ike Dennison, who threw the ball well last season en route to 1,134 passing yards and 11 passing touchdowns. According to Conklin, the year looks to an offseason defined by hard work.
“I expect Ike to be one of the top gunslingers in 2A football,” Conklin said. “He has gotten bigger in the offseason, and he’s going to be a dual threat back there.”
Lining up behind Dennison in the backfield will be senior running back Jacob Schuster, who rushed for a team-high 435 yards last season.
Also figuring to see time at running back is speedy junior Valentino Rodriguez, who has been impressive in practices.
At the receiver position, the Panthers will be anchored by senior speedsters Cordell Baer and Vinny Conklin. The duo will be joined by newcomer Teagan Whiteskunk, who starred for M-CHS’s basketball and soccer teams last season.
On the offensive line, M-CHS will be anchored by five senior, including Kale Hall, Swayde Noyes, Kerwin Tom, Solomon Toles and Kaleb Mitchell. Given the line’s strength and experience, Conklin expects the Panthers’ offense to effectively move the ball this season.
“We’ll be a fast-paced, hurry-up, don’t-let-the-defense-take-a-break type of offense,” Conklin said. “We want to move the ball, take our 3 yards where we can get them, and control the clock. We’re speedy and fast, and we have a lot of tough kids.”
Senior leaders set to anchor defenseOn the defensive side of the ball, M-CHS will be led by senior defensive ends Noyes and Baer, and a tough linebacker group led by senior Zeke Vargas and senior Forest Pejsa, who starred for Dolores in each of the past two seasons.
Also figuring to play a prominent role will be senior outside linebacker Matthew Broughton, who is known as one of the team’s hardest hitters, and senior outside linebacker Chance Cote, who is known for his toughness.
Speaking excitedly about the Panthers defense, Conklin said that he expects his players to give opposing offenses fits this season and expects that his team will rank at the top of the league in many defensive categories.
“We bring a lot of experience on the defensive side this year,” Conklin said. “We’re going to fly to the ball and play hard.”
Team focused on making playoffsWith its season-opening game against Bloomfield less than two weeks away, M-CHS players and coaching staff are focusing on taking things one game at a time. Expectations are high however, and when asked about his team’s goal for the season, Conklin did not hold back.
“We definitely want to make the playoffs, and we’re going to see the playoffs this year,” the head coach said. “That will be a big deal for us.”
After opening its season at home against Bayfield on Aug. 24, the Panthers will hit the road for the first time when they travel to face Kirtland Central in New Mexico on Aug. 31. The team will then return home on Sept. 7 to face Zuni and will open its league schedule against Pagosa Springs at home on Sept. 28.