Clovis High senior Brian Mead breaks though a hole during the Wildcats’ practice on Thursday afternoon. The Wildcats open the season today with a 7 p.m. contest against Mayfield at Leon Williams Stadium. (CNJ staff photo: Tony Bullocks)
By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer
When the Clovis High football team takes on Mayfield in the 7 p.m. season opener tonight at Leon Williams Stadium, the teams will have different looks than a year ago when they met for the Class 5A state championship.
Mayfield, which handed the Wildcats their only two losses last season, has a new head coach in Michael Bradley, son of longtime coach Jim Bradley. And both teams will have a plethora of new players.
CHS assistant coach Darren Kelley said the Cats don’t expect many changes from the younger Bradley.
“It’s going to be a matter of whose going to execute, especially at this time of year,” Kelley said. “They’ve got a lot of young kids; their quarterback (junior Matt Sandoval) is athletic and definitely a threat to run the ball.”
Mayfield went 14-0 last season, but returns only a handful of starters from that squad. Still, Michael Bradley said he thinks both teams benefit from the early meeting.
“This is a win-win situation playing Clovis,” he said. “These are two top teams in the state, and our kids get up to play Clovis.
“We have a lot of respect for Clovis and (head coach Eric) Roanhaus. It’ll be a learning experience for both teams, regardless of the outcome. I think both teams get better (by) playing each other.”
Kelley said junior strong safety Diondre Hunter has probably been lost for the season with a torn ACL. He said Hunter is likely to have surgery soon on the knee, injured during an early-season practice.
Cobey Isbell has filled in for Hunter and has been solid in preseason, Kelley said.
Meantime, Michael Bradley — whose father is still helping in the program and should be on the sideline tonight — is concerned about the Cats’ big-play potential.
“They have two of the better athletes in the state in (senior running back Brian) Mead (running back) and (senior wide receiver Rishard) Matthews,” he said. “And (junior running back Manuel) Robles looks like he has a lot of potential.”
He added that he feels only a slight change in going from assistant coach to head coach.
“I make the final decision, usually,” he said. “I used to be the guy who made suggestions.”
Still, he listens to what he father has to say about the team.
“You don’t get rid of what’s worked for 46 years,” Michael Bradley said, referring to Jim Bradley’s coaching career.
Mayfield at Clovis
7 p.m. today
Records: season opener for both.
Coaches: Michael Bradley, Mayfield, 1st year; Clovis, Eric Roanhaus 29th year.
Last year: Mayfield went 14-0 and handed the Cats their only two losses of the season — 7-0 in the season opener and 17-7 in the Class 5A state championship game, both in Las Cruces.
Mayfield players to watch: Matt Sandoval, 5-8, 160, Jr., QB; Chris Story, 6-1, 250, Sr., G-NG; Chris Hutchinson, 5-11, 170, Sr., RB-CB; Alex Holguin, 6-0, 165, Sr. SE; Carlos Olivas, 5-8, 180, Jr., RB-SS.
Keys to the game: Both teams have many new faces in the lineup this season. Mistakes, and the ability of each team to convert the other’s miscues, will be a deciding factor.
Quotable: “When it comes down to crunch time, we know what they’re going to do and they know what we’re going to do.” — Clovis assistant coach Darren Kelley