“Ready…GO!” Moriarty High School assistant football coach Peter Romero yelled.

On the coach’s command, groups of players took turns sprinting about 50 yards and back, trying to beat the coach’s countdown to 30 seconds: “Twenty-five, twenty-six, twenty-seven…”

The conditioning drill—called “Gassers”—left the players panting, with sweat dripping from their faces like leaky faucets. A couple of them dropped down on all fours gasping for air.

At the end of practice, head coach Joe Anaya told his players, “Everything we do has to be better.”

It’s high school football time, and that means all the weightlifting, workouts, and drills that area teams have been engaging in for months officially get put to the test this weekend.

Moriarty kicks off its season Aug. 24 at home against West Las Vegas, and Anaya said he doesn’t yet know what to expect from this year’s Fighting Pintos.

About 70 percent of the varsity squad consists of freshmen and sophomores. The Pintos lost 15 players from last year’s squad, Anaya said.

“We’re young, and there’s going to be some growing pains,” Anaya said. “But just because we’re young doesn’t mean we can’t be good, we’re not going to use our youth as an excuse.”

Anaya said sophomore Brian Wright will take the reins at quarterback, and senior Xavier Romero will shoulder the bulk of the Pintos’ bread-and-butter running game.

Estancia High school also kicks off its season Aug. 24—a week sooner than normal, according to head coach Stewart Burnett—and though the Bears are returning to Class 2A, that doesn’t mean they’ll have an easier time this year than in years past.

The Bears’ first test will be Class 3A Hatch Valley—a former 4A school that made it to the state semifinals last year.

Burnett said he has fewer players on his roster this year than in years past, so there isn’t a lot of depth, but though the quantity is down, the quality is not.

“The guys we have work very hard,” he said.

Burnett cited two keys that will determine the success of the Bears’ season: the ability to stay healthy, and the offensive line.

“We’ll have experience with Josh [Thomas], Andrew [Lujan], and Cruz [Moreno] running the ball,” Burnett said. “It’s going to come down to how good we are up front. We’ll go as far as our offensive line takes us.”

Mountainair High’s 8-man football team starts its new season—with a whole new set of district foes—Aug. 24 against the visiting Logan Longhorns.

Mustangs head coach Robert Zamora said he lost “a good group of seniors” from last year’s state runners up.

But Zamora said he’s excited about his current group.

“They’re hungry, they’re tough, they’ve been working really hard, and all of the assistant coaches have been working really hard, too—I feel like this year’s team is ready to make its own identity,” Zamora said, adding, “I’ve got high expectations.”

Zamora said sophomore Cade Brazil will be his starting quarterback, with senior Jason Padilla sharing some of the QB duties.

Manzano High begins its season Aug. 25 at Las Cruces. The Monarchs will be trying to defend their 2017 undefeated 6A state championship. Manzano lost several key starters from last season’s squad, including quarterback Jordan Byrd, and East Mountain resident, Andrew Erickson—who scored the game-winning touchdown in the 2017 title game.

The Monarchs will also start the season with an interim head coach, Phillip Martinez, who was previously the team’s defensive coordinator. Martinez took over for Chad Adcox, who stepped down last May.

East Mountain residents on the Monarchs’ roster include returning starters Dakota Powell, Jack Blankenship, and Austin Erickson.