Clovis junior running back Tanner Fickling can’t corral a pass in front of defender Elliot Hita during practice Wednesday at the high school. (CNJ photo by Eric Kluth)
By Rick White: CNJ sports editor
He comes from a long line of Clovis Wildcats.
His brother Kane was an all-state Wildcat linebacker in the mid-90s and cousins Wes and Drew Hatley also played for the purple-and-white in recent years.
Now it’s Devin Sweet’s turn.
A sturdy 6-foot-3, 195-pound junior strong safety, Sweet is one of more than a dozen Wildcats making their first varsity start tonight against Las Cruces Mayfield at Leon Williams Stadium.
“I’ve been waiting for this day for a long time,” Sweet said. “The first game is always big. Plus it’s at home in front of a big crowd. I think everybody is going to be nervous.”
Sweet knows it’s inevitable he will be compared to his brother and cousins.
“I talked to my brother the other day on the phone and he told me not to worry about it,” Sweet said. “He just told me to go out there and play my own game.”
Clovis defensive coordinator Darren Kelley said Sweet will likely be a busy man in his first start. As a strong safety, Sweet is counted on for strong run support.
“Hopefully, I can be in the right spot and make a few nice hits,” Sweet said.
Mayfield, which is coming off its third-straight state runner-up finish, will likely not be as explosive on offense as last year when speedy quarterback Jeremy Lawson rushed for 205 yards and three long touchdowns, leading the Trojans to a 32-7 win over the Wildcats.
“When you play against (Mayfield coach Jim) Bradley you’ve got to stop the run,” Kelley said. “They’re gonna line up and run at you until you stop it. They just do a good job of executing.
“Last year they embarrassed us. We have to stop the big play if we’re going to have a chance.”
Mayfield, ranked second in the Albuquerque Journal coaches’ preseason poll released Thursday, must replace several standout players, but the Trojans have made it a habit to reload.
Rugged Seth McKinney returns at running back and will operate behind a line that returns three starters. But stingy defense is Mayfield’s forte.
“Defense has been good to us,” said Bradley, who has won five state titles at Roswell High and Mayfield, “and I think we’re probably going to play some good defense this year.”
Kelley expects plenty of butterflies tonight for the Wildcats, who return seven starters from last year’s 8-3 team. Kelley said the other starters will have to grow up quickly if Clovis expects to compete with Mayfield, which has lost just four games the last three seasons.
“This is the first (varsity) game for some of our young guys,” Kelley said. “It’s also the first game for some of them at Leon Williams Stadium.”
Mayfield (0-0) at Clovis (0-0)
7:30 p.m, today
Leon Williams Stadium
Last year’s record: Mayfield 11-2, Clovis 8-3.
Coaches: Mayfield, Jim Bradley, 18th year, 171-43-6; Clovis, Eric Roanhaus, 27th, 243-84-5
Last meeting: Senior QB Jeremy Lawson rushed for 205 yards and 3 TDs in Mayfield’s 32-7 win in 2003 opener for both teams.
Mayfield players to watch: Seth McKinney, 6-1, 201, Sr., RB/DE; Ross Conner, 6-0, 205, Sr., C/LB; Ryan Hooker, 5-11, 170, Sr., QB.
By the numbers
3 Years in a row Mayfield has finished as state runnerup in Class 5A
4 Losses by Mayfield in the last three years (36-4)
7 Returning starters for the Clovis Wildcats
15 Combined state titles between Roanhaus (10) and Bradley (5)
29 Combined TDs passing, receiving and rushing by Clovis seniors John Props and Phillip Williams last season.
Not signs of slowing down
Bradley started coaching in 1959 and said he has no plans to retire yet. “I’m just taking it day-to-day,” said the 71-year-old dean of New Mexico coaching. “I can’t remember yesterday and I don’t think about tomorrow.Bradley has coached two stints at Mayfield, four years at New Mexico State, and at Roswell High. He retired from teaching in 1994. “It’s great,” he said of coaching. “I feel like I’ve never worked a day in my life.”
At the movies
Besides being the first varsity experience for several players, said last week’s scrimmage serves as a teaching tool. “We always tell them it’s the little things that count.. Now we can show them. And in case they don’t believe us, we can show them again and again.”
Delay of game
Last year’s game in Las Cruces was delayed for a total of about two hours by lightning. The weather forecast for tonight is partly cloudy with a chance of rain, according to the National Weather Service.
In last year’s loss, the Wildcats didn’t pick up a first down until midway through the third quarter and finished with 51 yards. In 2002, the Wildcats were limited to 53 yards and four first downs in a 14-0 loss.
Did you know
Bradley’s son, Gary, played for former Clovis High coach Dunny Goode at Roswell Goddard in the mid-80s. Gary is Mayfield’s offensive coordinator. Goode, who led Clovis to state titles in 1973 and 1977, died this summer.