The Tigers turn their collective focus on opening day of the regular season as the Hatch Valley Bears will be paying a visit to Taos High School, Aug. 25. Kick-off is slated for 7 p.m. Touted as a “blackout” game, Coach Art Abreu and the THS athletic department are asking fans to get to the stadium early, bring their noisemakers and wear their favorite black Taos Tiger apparel.
Taos Tigers at a glance
Colors: Black, orange, white
Helmet: black matte with orange tiger paw logo
Head coach: Art Abreu Jr. (third year; 11-11, .500 win percentage)
2016 overall record: 6-5
District 2-4A record: 4-2
Jude Suazo; senior (6 feet tall, 160 pounds), quarterback, defensive back. The agile senior has quietly racked up experience in his respective positions and has become an outstanding spokesman for the football program during the current era. Look for Suazo to be more creative at the quarterback position due to the outstanding offensive line returning for Taos. Improved protection equals more time to find targets downfield or along the flats. Also, look for Suazo to stifle receivers with smothering shutdown defense as a prowling cornerback.
Dominic “Red” Lopez; senior (6 feet 1 inch tall, 305 pounds), offensive and defensive lineman. Lopez inherited a veteran line from Johnny Montaño – who graduated last year – and has taken up the mantle to lead a very big offensive line. Under the direct guidance of Art Abreu Sr., the “O” line and “D” line should be able to move people and create space for the very potent Tiger running backs and give Jude Suazo extra time on pass plays.
Estevan Valerio; junior (5 feet 9 inches tall, 190 pounds), linebacker. Certainly one of the most vocal players on defense, Valerio is relied on to recognize offensive alignments and schemes. An aggressive pursuer and tackler, Valerio will be tapped to plug holes in the front line, along with pass protection duties, limiting opposing quarterbacks from dumping passes in the middle of the field. Valerio is a skilled athlete who also owns an individual state wrestling title and will see plenty of action on offense, too.
Santiago “Saint” Cortez; senior (6 feet tall, 180 pounds), tight end, defensive end. As a junior, Cortez was a favorite target of Jude Suazo during much of the 2016 season. The combination of good vision, good hands and powerful legs gives Cortez the ability to obtain bonus yardage after catches. His experience in the tight end position makes him a top option in the Tigers’ air assault. On the other side of the ball, the senior will anchor the line as a defensive end.
Other notable players:
Shane Martinez, senior (6 feet 5 inches tall, 235 pounds), offensive and defensive lineman; Morgan Thompson, senior (6 feet 1 inch tall, 285 pounds), offensive and defensive lineman; Justin Good, junior (5 feet 7 inches tall, 150 pounds), running back, safety; Adam Vigil, junior (5 feet 8 inches tall, 180 pounds), running back, linebacker; Jonathan Garcia, junior (5 feet 7 inches tall, 150 pounds), running back, safety; Tyler Gomez, junior (5 feet 11 inches tall, 240 pounds), offensive and defensive lineman; Brian Moraga, junior (5 feet 6 inches tall, 185 pounds), offensive line, defensive end.
The Tigers lost five players to graduation from last year’s team. Three of those players were key contributors and provided leadership on both sides of the ball. The loss of Ronnie Salazar, Ryan McCarty and Johnny Montaño left gaps at wide receiver, running back and on the offensive and defensive lines, respectively. All three were named to the All-District team and Salazar was invited to play in the North-South All-Star game in Albuquerque June 9. Returning to start at quarterback is senior Jude Suazo, who led the Tigers in 2016 to a 6-5 overall record and a second consecutive trip to the state playoffs. A key component for Abreu and his staff is the depth of his roster. Eleven seniors and 16 juniors on the roster help give the Tigers a more traditional varsity look and should prove fruitful during the regular-season grind. These upperclassmen have been with coach Abreu and his staff for the last two years and have embraced the work requirements and overall mission of the team. This year’s batch of seniors will be vital cogs in helping to change the culture of Taos Tiger football for the better. If the Tigers live up to expectations, look for them to make a serious case for the District 2-4A title and a serious run deep in the Class 4A state bracket in November and December.
Schedule notes: The Tigers have one of the toughest three-game stretches of any Class 4A team when they play Robertson, St. Michael’s and West Las Vegas during a four-week period in late September and early October. Also, the Tigers will have to travel a total of 1,200 round-trip miles in 2017. Four of their five road trips will occur in September, so staying healthy and getting sufficient rest early in the season is a must if Taos intends on improving its record from last year.
2017 season football schedule:
(X) - denotes District 2-4A game
(HC) - denotes homecoming game
Bold - denotes home game
Aug. 25, Hatch Valley, 7 p.m.
Sept. 2, at Hope Christian, 5 p.m.
Sept. 8, at NM Military Institute, 7 p.m.
Sept. 15, (HC) Santa Fe High, 7 p.m.
Sept. 21, at Santa Fe Indian (X), 7 p.m.
Sept. 29, at L.V. Robertson (X), 7 p.m.
Oct. 6, St. Michael’s (X), 7 p.m.
Oct. 14, BYE WEEK
Oct. 20, at West Las Vegas (X), 7 p.m.
Oct. 27, Pojoaque Valley (X), 7 p.m.
Nov. 3., Bernalillo (X), 7 p.m.
Mark your calendar:
Taos opens the 2017 season against the Hatch Valley Bears, who beat the visiting Tigers 38-6 in the 2016 opener in a lightning-delayed contest and in front of a raucous home crowd. Hatch Valley made it as far as the semifinals in last year’s state playoffs, losing to the eventual state runners-up, Robertson Cardinals, 38-20. The season and home opener Aug. 25 welcomes a Bears team that has a new coach and an even mix of upperclassmen and underclassmen. Advertised as a “blackout” game, coach Abreu is hoping to pack Anaya Stadium with hometown fans wearing all black and invites families to come out and support the team with a unified voice. Another game to keep an eye on is against the St. Michael’s Horsemen at home Oct. 6. Taos has not defeated St. Mike’s the last three outings – giving up 100 points in three consecutive games – but can turn the corner as an organization with a home win against their Lasallian rival.
If you go
Gates at anaya Stadium open at 5 p.m. Kickoff is at 7 p.m. Fans are reminded to bring warm clothing as temperatures tend to drop after the sun sets. Also, fans will not be allowed to leave and re-enter the stadium, so be prepared with gear and layers.
Fans who wish to view the game from their vehicles on the upper parking lot of the Taos High School campus must keep their headlights off during the game.