By Greg Price: Freedom Newspapers
Judge Chavez spent more than half of his 28 years of coaching at Highland High School.
Chavez said he has fond memories and worked with tremendous players while at the Highland helm.
With numbers on the decline at Highland, however, Chavez decided in the spring to take the Cibola job on Albuquerque’s growing west side.
He said he couldn’t turn down the opportunity to work in a larger and, what he called, more competitive program.
Not only did Chavez bring his rigorous style of coaching to the Cougars’ program, but also his belief that in order to be the best you must play the best.
“If you’re going to win a state championship, you have to play the best teams,” said Chavez, who spent 17 years at Highland, including the last 11 as head coach. “If you can play with or beat those teams, you can win a state title.”
That is why Chavez said he wanted Clovis on the Cougars’ schedule.
“All the hard work we’ve been preaching has really paid off,” Chavez said. “It’s been like a honeymoon.”
Cibola has run out to a 5-0 record under Chavez and is ranked second in the state, one spot behind Mayfield and one ahead of Clovis.
Chavez’ experience against the Wildcats over the years gives him the understanding that Clovis (4-2) is a serious threat to his team’s unblemished record.
He said his team will have its hands full trying to stop Clovis senior Brian Mead — whom he calls the best running back in the state — and junior Manuel Robles.
Mead and Robles have combined for 1,863 yards and 20 touchdowns this season.
“We need to stop the big play,” Chavez said, “and stretch their drives out to 10 or 12 plays rather than one 50-yard score.”
Cibola is by far the biggest team Clovis has faced all year, Clovis assistant coach Darren Kelley said. The Cougars boast a line anchored by sophomore offensive lineman Rio Mares, who stands 6-foot-5 and weighs a staggering 340 pounds.
Despite Cibola’s size advantage, Kelly said the Cats at least know what to expect.
“We’ve played (Chavez-coached teams) every year since the 80s, and usually in the playoffs, so sometimes twice a year,” Kelley said. “He knows us as well as we know him.”
The Cougars’ top skill player is 6-4, 200-pound junior quarterback Jonathan Mader, who has proven he can beat defenses with his arm and his feet. He’s thrown for 693 yards and added 224 yards on the ground.
“He’s a tough kid to bring down,” Kelley said. “We just want to keep him inside the pocket, not let him get outside and take off running and make him set up and throw the ball.”
Chavez said the Cougars aren’t planning any major changes for the Cats.
“We’re going to try and do what we do best, and that’s mixing our running and throwing,” he said. “And we have to eliminate turnovers because they will capitalize on our mistakes.”
Chavez should know. He’s been preparing for Clovis games for years.