Cats plan to rely on speed

CNJ staff photo: Tony Bullocks Clovis High seniors Diondre Hunter, left, and Jaden Isler take time to share a drink and a song on Hunter’s iPod during a break in Saturday’s conditioning drills at the high school practice field.

By Rick White: CNJ managing editor

Speed for size. It’s a good tradeoff as far as Clovis assistant coach Darren Kelley is concerned.

“We’re not real big, but we’re going to be athletic,” Kelley said. “On defense, that’s really going to help because six of the 10 teams we face this season spread you from sideline to sideline every down.”

Coming off a 7-4 season and a rare first-round playoff lost, the Wildcats start preseason practice Monday with nine returning starters, including 1,000-yard rusher Manuel Robles and quarterback Jordan Mendoza.

The Wildcats will skip two-a-day workouts this season because of a later than normal start date for fall sports. Instead, team will hold three-hour practices the first week.

“We’re going to be short some time on preparation,” Kelley said.

Senior Jaden Isler said the team is ready to go.

“We’ve been working out, but we’re ready to get the pads on and get in hitting shape,” said Isler, who is being moved to cornerback this season in addition to get a looking at running back.

Isler said the Wildcats were more focused during offseason workouts this season.

“It’s OK to have some fun, but you still got to get the work done,” he said.

The Wildcats open their season Aug. 31 at two-time Class 5A champion Mayfield.

Names you know
Manuel Robles, Sr., RB — Rushed for 1,113 yards and 4 TDs as a junior. Expected to carry the load with 2,000-yard rusher Brian Mead graduated.

Jordan Mendoza, Sr., QB — Passed for 518 yards and 4 TDs as a junior. Expected to take on more of a leadership role.

Jaden Isler, Sr., RB/DB — Started at FS last year. Likely will be moved to CB and could see time at RB.

Dominique Chairez, Sr., LB/OL — Only returning OL.

Bryce Hill, Sr., WR — Led the Wildcats in 2007 with 10 catches for 103 yards and a TD.

New faces
Scotty McMath, Stefan Mills — Junior speedsters will battle for time at RB and in the secondary.

Logan Denton — Junior penciled in at DE.

Quentin Bryant — Senior will help anchor what the coaching staff hopes will be a quicker DL.

Battles to watch
• Isler, Mills, McMath and senior Derrick Phillips are battling for the second running back spot. The good news is if they don’t win the job they’ll likely start in the secondary.

Clovis assistant coach Darren Kelley said the Cats may even take a running-back-by-committee approach besides Robles.

• Seniors Lane Strebeck (6-4, 194) and Aaron Boydston (6-1, 188) are battling at tight end.

Biggest concerns
Offensive line — Only senior Dominique Chairez returns, and that might only be part-time because he is also counted on to play LB.

“We’re going to be big enough to get in somebody’s way but not big enough to overpower anybody,” Clovis assistant coach Darren Kelley said.

Biggest hole to fill
Even though Robles figures to be one of the top backs in the state, Brian Mead and his 4,000 rushing yards the last two seasons will be missed.

Tough luck
Senior strong safety Diondre Hunter suffered his second knee injury in less than a year this spring. Hunter tore up his right knee a week before last season’s opener. This time it was the other knee. Kelley said Hunter could return in October, Kelley said.

Lights, camera, action
Kelley said the coaches and players are excited about the Wildcats’ Oct. 19 game at Class 4A power Artesia that will be televised nationally on ESPNU. The problem is local cable provider Suddenlink does not offer ESPNU. Kelley is hopeful something can be worked out.

2007 schedule
Aug. 31 @Mayfield
Sept. 7 Eldorado
Sept. 14 Palo Duro
Sept. 22 @La Cueva
Sept. 28 @Rio Rancho
Oct. 5 Goddard
Oct. 12 Cibola
Oct. 19 @Artesia
Nov. 2 @Hobbs
Nov. 9 Carlsbad

— Compiled by Rick White