Last season was a tough season for a very young McClave Cardinals football team as they failed to win a game.
The Cardinals will look to turn things in the right direction in a tough Arkansas Valley 8-Man League.
“We went 0-5 last year with a very, very young team,” said McClave head coach Jeremy Mallard. “We started all freshmen and sophomores and it made it hard to match up physically. But I was very proud of the way our guys handled themselves considering how young we were. I think we got better every week and that's all you can really ask for in that situation. With that being said we bring back the whole team from a year ago, and I feel like we had a great summer. The kids were committed to the weight room and just getting a year older is huge for us. I think we will be very competitive and hopefully be right in the thick of things towards the end of the year.”
McClave did not have any seniors on our team from a year ago. This year, the Cardinals’ roster will have three season.
“We are pretty heavy with juniors and sophomores,” state Mallard.
McClave returns three all-league players in Aiden Martinez, Aydin Gomez, and Braden Marks, all of whom will be juniors this year.
Martinez was a first team all-league selection and was honorable-mention All-State in 2020.
A 6-1, 165-pound wide receiver and outside linebacker, Martinez had over 1,000 yard receiving. He was also McClave's defensive leader with 80 total tackles and one interception.
“Aiden is a very athletic kid and does a lot for us,” lauded Mallard.
He led the Cardinals in receiving with 42 catches for 772 yards and three touchdowns for an average of 154.4 yards per game.
Gomez, a 6-2, 160-pound quarterback and safety, had 1,000 yards passing.
“Aydin is a very smart and poised kid who doesn’t get rattled too easily,” Mallard said. “I think he will just get better and better.”
Mallard said that Gavin Temple, a 6-2, 165-pound sophomore, is a tough kid and played fullback and inside linebacker for the Cardinals as a freshman.
Caleb Barr, a 6-0, 190-pound junior, returns on the offensive line and also plays defensive end.
“Caleb plays extremely hard and has started for us since he was a freshman,” noted Mallard.
Another player that Mallard will be counting on will be Ray Mungaray, a 6-2, 175-pound sophomore.
“Ray is a big athletic kid who plays wide receiver and defensive end for us,” Mallard said.
Mallard said one area he feels his team needs to really improve on will be the offensive line.
“We will need to improve our offensive line from last year,” he said. “We bring back all our lineman and just being a year older and more mature is going to be huge for them.”
The veteran McClave coach feels that the depth on the team will be an asset.
“We have a lot more depth this year with 24 guys out for the team,” he noted. “So that alone will make practice and preparation much better. I think our skill guys are as good as anybody’s and being young, I think we will just get better and better as the season goes on. Our kids are excited for this season and I think they are ready to compete and shock some people.”
Looking at the Arkansas Valley League, Mallard said, “Our league will be extremely tough once again. Holly, Crowley County, Fowler, Hohene, will all be tough teams.”
Holly is ranked No. 6 in the state while Fowler stands at No. 9 and Hoehne sits at No. 10.
“Holly and Hoehne are always well coached and Dayne (Eaton) and Gabe do a great job respectively. Their kids play hard for them and love the game,” added Mallard. “Fowler has a lot of tradition and Crowley County is extremely athletic.”
Looking at the rest of the teams in conference, the McClave coach said, “Las Animas has improved a ton. Springfield has a new coach and they will be young, but I think he will do a great job there. Wiley is always tough for us being a rivalry.”
“Every week will be a tough game for us,” said Mallard. “But I think we are up for the challenge.”
McClave kicks off the season with a road game at Pikes Peak Christian on Saturday, Sept 4.
The following week, the Cardinals will host Dolores Huerta Prep on Saturday, Sept. 11.
McClave will then face a rugged league schedule hosting Fowler on Sept. 17 and Crowley County on Sept. 24.
The Cardinals then host Holly on Oct. 1 and Hoehne on Oct. 8.
McClave travels to Las Animas on Oct. 15 and will host Springfield on Oct.22.
In the final game of the regular season, the Cardinals visit Wiley on Oct. 29.