Capital coach sees hard climb ahead for young Jaguars team
“If you show them the path, they will climb the mountain.”
Bill Moon is a believer in the youth of America, and he sees it every day on the practice field at Capital High School. It’s why the Jaguars head football coach believes in this football team as much as he has believed in any other team he has coached.
Is Capital young? Yes, as a roster of 35 underclassman versus just 12 upperclassmen can attest to that.
Are the Jaguars inexperienced? Yes (see above, Moon contends).
But are they good enough to win? Moon is not a betting man, but he’d be willing to let it ride with the 2018 Capital Jaguars.
“There are going to be some tough, tough, tough times this year,” Moon said. “But I’d rather be in the boat with these guys in those moments. Then again, that has been the story of Capital High since I’ve been here.”
Moon should know, because he’s spent 16 of his 35 years of coaching at the school and led the program to three of its four district titles. The latest one came last season, ending a 10-year drought for the program.
Even though the Jaguars enter this season with some question marks — specifically at quarterback — they feel they can repeat as District 2-5A champions and finally break though with a win in the postseason. Junior center Roger Cruz said the team might have basked in the glow of their district title a bit too long before snapping to the realization that the season wasn’t over yet.
The Los Lunas Tigers took care of that part, jumping out to a 27-7 lead and rolling to a 69-31 win in the first round of the playoffs, but Cruz felt the Jaguars had a momentary crisis of confidence before settling down and competing with Los Lunas.
“We went in there and thought, ‘We made it. We got our district title,’ ” Cruz said. “A lot of guys had never been there [in the state playoffs]. So they were nervous, of course.”
Senior fullback/middle linebacker Jacob Jirón was one of the handful of Jaguars with playoff experience, having played in the 2015 first-round game against Roswell Goddard. He pointed to that experience as the impetus to make him work harder to make that moment happen again.
“I feel like that’s where it kicked off and you really started to take things seriously,” Jirón said. “Everyone was here early in the morning, running the plates, wanting to talk to the coaches if they had any questions.”
Now, Jirón has a chance to help Capital do something groundbreaking — win consecutive district titles — but it will take the underclassmen to make that dream a reality. That is especially true on the offensive end, what with three sophomores occupying key roles.
Luke Padilla was a key cog to Capital’s success last year, rushing for more than 1,000 yards that seemed anything but freshman-like. This year, he’ll share rushing duties with Geo Muñoz, who played primarily on the C team last year but will likely see plenty of touches in a three-headed rushing attack with Padilla and senior Leo Guzman.
“It’s a pretty nice thing to be a quarterback on a running team with three good tailbacks,” Moon said. “Just turn around and find the guy coming for the ball and get the heck out of the way.”
The Jaguars already faced their first bout of adversity during their Aug. 17 scrimmage with Albuquerque Highland and Bernalillo when expected starting quarterback, sophomore Dion Martinez, broke his collarbone on the final play. In steps another sophomore, Manuel Vargas, to fill that spot and do it quickly.
Cruz said Vargas had that starry look of a first-time varsity player at the start of Monday’s practice, but saw him settle down quickly. Cruz knew that feeling, having experienced it as a freshman center in 2016.
“Once you do something right, it makes you feel good,” Cruz said. “It makes you feel like, ‘You know what? I want more of this.’ ”
“Vargas is a competitor,” Moon added. “He’s responded well. Now, will he have his ups and downs? Certainly. It’s a tough position to play, but he’s a good athlete, he’s a tough competitor and he will evolve into it.”
After all, Moon as seen it happen plenty of times during his coaching career, and it’s why he believes in his young Jaguars. He compared it to telling them to climb the Himalayas, even though they might not know the challenges in front of them.
It’s why Moon said, “If you show them the path, they will climb the mountain.”
The path is set. All it takes is that first step.
Last year: 6-5 overall, 4-0 in District 2-5A. Lost to Los Lunas, 69-31, in the first round of the Class 5A playoffs.
Head coach: Bill Moon (seventh year)
Key players: Luke Padilla, sophomore, 5-foot-8, 155 pounds, RB/FS; Leo Guzman, senior, 5-8, 170, RB/DLB; Geo Munoz, sophomore, 5-10, 155, RB/DB; Manuel Vargas, sophomore, 5-11, 165, QB/CB; Jacob Jirón, senior, 10-185, FB/LB; Rogelio Cruz, junior, 5-8, 225, C/DT; Clay Rhinehart, senior, 6-0, 190, OT/DL; Jasper Mares, junior, 5-7, 155, WR/SS.
Outlook: This is how a program should run. The Jaguars come off winning their first district title in 10 years with a team that should contend for the 2-5A title once again. They will rely on a stable of runners, led by Padilla, who ran for more than 1,000 yards just in district play. Capital also has a stout offensive and defensive line that will be the lifeblood of both sides of the ball. The key to success will be how Vargas adapts at quarterback and keeps opposing defenses from stacking the line. This might be the year the Jaguars make a breakthrough and advance past the first round of the 5A playoffs.
Friday — Pojoaque Valley, 7 p.m.
Aug. 31 — Deming, 7 p.m.
Sept. 7 — at Lovington, 7 p.m.
Sept. 14 — St. Michael’s, 7 p.m.
Sept. 21 — at Moriarty, 7 p.m.
Sept. 28 — at Taos, 7 p.m.
Oct. 5 — at Portales, 7 p.m.
Oct. 19 — Abq. Del Norte-x, 7 p.m.
Oct. 26 — Los Alamos-x, 1 p.m.
Nov. 2 — at Santa Fe High-x, 7 p.m.
x-denotes District 2-5A opponent