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HomeNewsSportsDefending state champ Bulldogs in relentless pursuit of Title No. 32

Defending state champ Bulldogs in relentless pursuit of Title No. 32

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It doesn’t feel like autumn is on the horizon.

It may have for a moment over the weekend, when a few moderate falls of rain dropped temperatures blissfully into the high 80s amidst a summer that has scarcely seen a day below the 100s. But thoughts in Artesia are still geared more toward a dip in the pool and a popsicle than a bag of popcorn and a Friday night at Bulldog Bowl.

Regardless, a new school year began Monday. Just over a week from now, the lights at the Bowl will once again be shining like a beacon in the City of Champions.

It’s going to hit 100 a few more times. There will be more orange t-shirts than hoodies in the stands for a while, and the concession stand won’t be seeing many requests for coffee and hot chocolate. But football weather will join football season eventually, and in the meantime, the signs of autumn that only Artesians recognize are beginning to appear.

Orange flags on Main Street. Photos of athletes and coaches in the windows of downtown shops. Freshly painted paws on Bulldog Boulevard. Stadium seats, blankets and pom-poms emerging from closets. Bulldog drawings on the front page of the Daily Press.

Football is back. And while each team, each season is a new and unfamiliar tune, the steady drumbeat behind it remains the same.


Jeremy Maupin’s transition period was undoubtedly an emotional one.

Bittersweet is a feeling that often bubbles to the surface when a coach leaves one school for another. For Maupin, there were no questions as to why. He was returning to helm his alma mater. Most coaches would leap at that chance.

Pride and disappointment can coexist and likely did in 2021, when the Los Lunas High School program Maupin built came out on top against his Bulldogs in the Class 5A state championship game. But the bitter pill is often the more powerful motivator, and the ‘Dogs returned to the title tilt in 2022, this time taking it all.

Last year’s boys in orange had a wild ride through the regular season, logging a three-point win over county rival Carlsbad and dropping a pair of shootouts with two of Class 6A’s top-four teams. Wins over teams in their own classification were lopsided to say the least, and the ‘Dogs rolled through district, topping Roswell High 46-28, Goddard 55-20 and Mayfield 35-0.

Hitting their stride at precisely the right moment, they dispatched Valley and Deming in the state quarterfinals and semifinals, respectively, 50-0 and 49-12. Then it was on to Farmington to fulfill what was, at that point, unquestionably their destiny by way of a 27-14 win over third-ranked Piedra Vista.

The 2022 Bulldogs were state champions, securing the program’s record 31st title and first since 2017. In his second season, Maupin had led them there.

“I’m excited for these guys and what they’ve accomplished, and we’re just pumped to get back to work and try to win some more,” he said following that victory. And with that, he entered his first season as the coach of a championship-defending team.

Subtle signs often tip a coach off to the collective mindset of their athletes. Once the 31st football had been added to the face of the press box at Bulldog Bowl and the No. 1 atop it was tucked away, how would the returning players react? Would there be complacency? A hunger to relive it all over again?

“At some point during the summer, it was like everything just clicked into place,” Maupin said Tuesday. “There’s been no talk of last season. It’s just like, ‘Let’s go get another one.'”

Maupin himself felt the magic Monday. Summer — in the sense of offseasons, scrimmages, and long, hot days on the practice field — is over. Week One is here.

“I feel re-focused, re-energized,” said the coach. “When I walked out yesterday, I felt that excitement I’d been waiting to feel. I’m ready to go. I think we all are.”

This year’s Bulldogs are competitors, that rare blend of best friends who wouldn’t mind popping one another in the mouth and hold no grudges when on the receiving end.

“This is a really run group,” said Maupin. “They battle. When they go one-on-one, they both want to win; there’s no ‘hey, I’ll take it easy on you if you take it easy on me’ or any of that stupid stuff. They compete. And it’s fun because I really feel like they have a good grasp of our base offense and defense, so it allows us to do a lot more extra stuff.

“When our offense gets out there at practice, I can say, ‘I want to do this and this and this,’ and they just go do it. It’s pretty impressive. They’re ‘yes, sir; no, sir’ guys, and they follow directions well. There’s not a feeling of you’ve got to get after this guy to motivate them or this guy because he’s doing things wrong. It’s all just let’s go practice and have some fun.”


Before the pads go on for two-a-days, summer is all about the passing games.

Every team is anxious for even a vague idea of where they might stack up in the coming season. While the quarterbacks, receivers and secondaries take center stage in seven-on-seven tournaments, the linemen get in on the act with a little conditioning and strong-man bragging rights during Linemen’s Challenges.

It’s recreation with implications, and there’s still hardware to be had to sweeten the deal. The Bulldogs brought home their fair share this offseason.

“The first seven-on-seven tournament we went to, our varsity won the varsity division and our sophomores won the sophomore division,” Maupin said. “Then we went to Eastern and our varsity won the varsity division and our JV team won the second division. So all three teams we put in the tournaments won their division at some point or another.

“Our linemen also competed really well. We were always in the top five in the lineman groups.”

It was a productive summer overall, and Maupin and his staff were also impressed with the turnout.

“We had really good participation,” said the coach. “We had good numbers all summer. Pretty much all our guys were there, and we competed well.”

All that remained once August rolled around was the annual intermural scrimmage between Artesia and Organ Mountain, the ‘Dogs’ much-anticipated first taste of full game-format action. And then the Knights backed out at the last minute.

With Quarterback Club hamburgers just waiting to be fried, Maupin put out several calls but could find no 11th-hour takers. He did, however, find a pair of teams happy to welcome a third for their scrimmage in Ruidoso: Las Cruces High and Clovis. So the hamburger fry was converted to a meet-and-greet, and as an added bonus, the Bulldawgs volunteered to be the Bulldogs’ sparring partner next year.

“It ended up being good for us, getting to see two different offenses and two different defenses,” said the coach. “We came out on Las Cruces and scored on the very first play, which was a play we’ve had a lot of success with all summer, so that was exciting. Then we turned around and marched it down the field and scored again, and our defense was able to hold them scoreless.

“With Clovis, we scored two touchdowns on them, a pretty quick one and then one on the last play of a drive, and I think they scored one TD on us before our defense pretty much held them from gaining yards after that.”

It was a positive end to a solid summer and exactly the sort of confidence-booster the ‘Dogs needed heading into Friday’s season opener.

“They were definitely good showings,” Maupin said. “We found things we had to work on, we came back and watched film, and it was good to go hit somebody else and get some good experience right there at the end of the offseason.”


The Bulldog football program’s graduation numbers are never small, and last year was no exception.

Artesia bid farewell to 30 seniors from the 2022 5A state title team, including some key talent and longtime starters, and lost a highly anticipated returner when First-Team All-State slot back Peyton Greathouse departed for Tennessee.

But the ‘Dogs are also perennial reloaders, and the core they’ll have back on both sides of the ball is stout to say the least.

“Experience wise, seven of the guys on offense have experience, and five of those are multi-year starters,” Maupin said. “Defensively, there’s seven as well, so our whole secondary is back, and nearly our whole linebacking crew is back.”

Artesia will be missing All-State OLB Ethan Ramirez but return First-Team ILB Diego Wesson and Grant Johnson, who saw plenty of playing time in 2022. Maupin says senior Josiah Rodriguez has also been moving down some from safety to compete at outside linebacker.

“Our defensive line was pretty much all seniors, but Dylan Fisher is back, and then we have Kaden Grantham, Kellen Worley — some guys that have had really good summers and springs that we’re excited about,” Maupin said.

As an offense, few words are sweeter than “returning senior quarterback,” and the ‘Dogs will once again be helmed by Nye Estrada, also an All-State First Team selection as a junior.

“It’s always nice to have your quarterback back for a second year, and also your running back [Jesse Leroch],” said Maupin. “Just the things you can do there are tremendous, plus we’ve got our center [First Team selection Omar Salais] back as well. Then we have big Rickey Armendariz back on the offensive line and Garret Fisher there, so that’s exciting.”

At the wide-out positions, Maupin is looking forward to once again taking advantage of the speed of seniors Matthew Saiz and Juan Diego Duran, and he feels the program has an embarrassment of riches at the slot.

“I think a lot of people have been looking like, ‘Oh, you don’t have a bonafide slot,’ but we love our slot group,” said the coach. “They’re just grinders, hard-working kids who really love football. Ethan Conn is going to have a huge year, and nothing means more to Diego Lopez than doing things right.

“Then we have our backup quarterback, Izac Cazares, who’s a really good athlete and is poised for a huge year, combined with Frankie Galindo, who can play three-back, wide-out, slot, everything. It’s going to be a fun group to watch.”


As has become tradition since the NMAA’s last mass restructuring, Artesia will kick off its 2023 campaign this week with a bang, travelling to Ralph Bowyer Stadium in Carlsbad for the Eddy County War game.

Maupin is of the same mind as many other Bulldog and Caveman coaches before him: It’s been a long, long time since the rivalry counted for anything more than bragging rights, and it’s best if the squads just think of it as a regular old season opener.

Best, perhaps… but not likely.

Maupin knows it matters on a level where traditions and memories and the things that make high-school football special reside. He knows that, in particular, the handful of athletes on his team who moved to Artesia from Carlsbad in junior high are looking forward to the bout. And excitement is high in general following last year’s thriller at Bulldog Bowl that saw Saiz deliver an 80-yard kick return in the final seconds to give the ‘Dogs a 30-27 win.

“Our team as a whole is definitely just ready to get this thing going,” said the coach. “So we’re excited about this week, and from there we host Hobbs, who beat us last year, so hopefully we can fix that one.”

This year, the Bulldogs will be hitting the road to Belen and Deming in Weeks Three and Four. Artesia logged big wins over the Eagles and Wildcats last year, but Maupin says they’ll be looking to improve over their 2021 away performances against the two teams.

After that, it’s back to the Bowl to host defending Class 6A champ Cleveland Sept. 15 and Lovington Sept. 22 in the 2023 Homecoming game, followed by another long road trip to Santa Teresa Sept. 29.

“Then we get a little break and it’s right into district play,” said Maupin.

Recent television interviews with the skippers at Roswell High and Goddard indicate zero confidence shortages, and Maupin expects a solid battle for D4 supremacy.

“Goddard has some guys back, a quarterback and a running back, and Roswell has pretty much everyone back, which is probably why they’re so confident,” said the coach. “Then Mayfield is kind of a wild card. They’ve got a new coach [Gary Bradley; yes, those Bradleys], and there seems to be a little more excitement over there, so it’ll be interesting to see how things pan out.

“For sure, though, it’s still the toughest district in the state.”


A reigning champion is always looking to hold on to their crown. They know they’ll have a target on their back, and they know a repeat is never a sure thing, regardless of circumstances. But they also know they’re automatically in the hunt.

The difference lies in just how hard they’re willing to go for their goal.

“We talked about pursuit — chasing something until you obtain it — and then relentless as just being obsessively constant,” Maupin said of this year’s Bulldog motto. “You have to want to attack this thing.

“My first thoughts were about making sure we weren’t content with last year’s championship, that if we’re just pursuing it, we’re not going to win it. But if we’re relentlessly pursuing it, we’ve got a shot.

“And that just translates into everything we talk about over the course of a season, too.”

Dedication, hard work, discipline, loyalty to those fighting beside you, and a desire to succeed — all the tenets of Artesia High School football are also admirable pursuits, both in sport and in life. And in that juncture lies the actual ultimate goal.

The Bulldogs will begin another season Friday, they’ll leave it all on the field each and every week, and if all works out, they’ll hoist another blue trophy come November. But along the way, they’ll become not only better athletes but better people. 

Both aims are well worth relentless pursuit.

“Hopefully, these guys are excited about playing football, and hopefully they’re also excited about being good dads one day, good husbands,” Maupin said. “Whether it’s a job, a degree, what separates somebody who’s pursuing those things is the way they pursue them. And that’s why we chose that word: ‘relentlessly.’

“We’re hoping it’ll translate into another state championship this season, but hopefully it’s something they carry with them the rest of their lives as well.”

Brienne Green
Daily Press Editor

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