Football is a physical game, and injuries are often a side effect of that. It’s the nature of the beast.
All any team can hope for is to get through the season with a bare minimum of issues and that, when issues do arise, they’re of the minor variety: a tweaked ankle, a strained shoulder… nothing a few trips to the trainer and a good taping can’t fix.
It’s never easy when something more serious happens, and it’s harder still when it happens to a senior. The Bulldog football team spent the first part of this week dealing with the emotions that accompany such a situation after learning that injuries suffered by senior running back Jesse Leroch early in Friday’s home opener against Hobbs were to be season-ending.
“We got the bad news with Jesse, and it just sucks,” head coach Jeremy Maupin said Wednesday. “You hate that for him. So it was a pretty tough Monday.”
Leroch went down awkwardly at the end of a 47-yard run that set up Artesia’s second touchdown of the night two minutes into the second quarter, limping from the field before dropping to the turf on the sideline in obvious pain.
It was devastating news for both Leroch and his teammates, but Maupin stressed the senior will continue to positively impact the squad.
“I think our team really rallied around him,” he said. “And we’re going to use him as kind of a coach from here on. He’ll be on a headset and doing some things for us on special teams, so that’s a good thing.”
As for the Bulldogs, they’ll move on with some new perspective to their first Class 5A competition of the season Friday against Belen. The bout will also mark the ‘Dogs’ first significant road trip of 2023, something Maupin and his staff always use as prep for the journeys that inevitably accompany the playoffs.
“Last year, we traveled all the way to Deming and Piedra Vista to play a semifinal and state championship game, and we may have some more of those this year,” Maupin said. “So this is our opportunity to see who can handle it and make any changes we need to make.
“We’ve also got a charter bus for one of the buses going up there, so it’s going to feel a lot like some of the playoff games, and that’ll be good for our guys to experience.”
As for the Eagles, they’ve had a rough start to their ’23 campaign, suffering a 56-6 mercy-rule loss to Los Lunas in their opener Aug. 18 and falling to Manzano 16-7 last week in a game that ended at the half due to inclement weather.
Belen has also had their share of injuries to contend with early in the season. Stat-wise, their project starting quarterback, junior Ethan Thomas, is 4-36 for 36 yards and a touchdown thus far. Senior back Derian Rodriguez is 17-64 rushing, and wide out Logan Gonzalez is 2-55 receiving.
“Their quarterback got hurt, their running back is hurt… they’re just kind of deprived right now, and they don’t have a lot of guys playing,” said Maupin.
The Bulldogs, meanwhile, will be looking to build on their last two weeks of wins over Class 6A opponents, including a particularly solid all-around performance in their 42-6 win over Hobbs.
“Hobbs had a lot of size on their line, particularly their linebackers, and we still had 290 yards rushing last week,” said Maupin. “So like I told the team, I think we’re at our best when we’re balanced on offense, and that helped us a lot.”
The Orange Crush has also been particularly stingy to start the year, surrendering just 13 points and 498 total yards of offense over the course of their first two outings while forcing eight turnovers.
“Defensively, Coach [Jourdan Rodriguez] is just doing such a great job of giving teams so many looks and keeping them uncomfortable,” Maupin said. “Hobbs just looked like they didn’t know what was coming next, and it just made it so difficult on their offense.
“When we were watching the game with the Quarterback Club last night, he’s giving them three or four different looks in one series. Those guys are playing with such confidence right now, too, and they just believe so much in what Coach Rod’s doing and our staff over there, so it’s a lot of fun to see how well they’re playing right now.”
Continued focus on improvement will be key this week as the ‘Dogs’ challenge moves from playing the role of giant-killers to taking care of business in a same-class match-up, and Maupin feels like his team understands what’s needed in Week Three.
“Our message this week has been about getting better and worrying about us,” said the coach. “We want to focus on us, what we’re doing, how we want to do it, and on fixing some things we don’t think went very well the first couple of weeks. And I think the guys are doing that, so we should be ready to get after Belen.”