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April 23, 2014

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HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL:

Capable new faces abound at Durango

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Sam Morris

Durango High School football players Tyler Lavin, Antonio Nieves, Ignacio Mendoza and Hunter Knight.

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Las Vegas Sun sports reporters Ray Brewer and Case Keefer celebrate the return of football season with an hour-long podcast diving into anything and everything regarding local high schools. They also look back on the victories by Bishop Gorman and Moapa Valley in the Sollenberger Classic and finish with week one picks.

It’s hard to believe Durango was one of the worst football teams in Las Vegas only three years ago.

The Trailblazers have turned things around since, going a combined 15-5 in the last two regular seasons and making the playoffs both years. Although they’re inexperienced heading into this season, the Trailblazers have talent to be excited about.

“This year will tell us if we have a program developing or if it was just a two-year flash with some great athletes,” Durango coach Gary Maki said. “I’d like to think it’s that we have something developing. We’ve got to see how things will work out.”

Maki will get an accurate read of how far his team has advanced Thursday night, as Durango travels to Foothill to open this year’s high school football season.

Foothill is traditionally one of the best programs in the Southeast division and coming off of a 10-2 season where they missed the Sunrise Regional finals by three points.

“If I had last year’s team, I’d say, ‘bring it on,’” Maki explained. “But it’s a challenge with a young team. We’re either going to come out and look great — we have a package put in for Foothill and a plan of how things are going to work out — or struggle against a quality opponent.”

Durango returns only six starters — two on offense and four on defense. The Trailblazers have a handful of newcomers raring to make an impact, though.

At the forefront of that group is junior running back and linebacker AJ McQuaig, a Palo Verde transfer. Maki raved about the way McQuaig had transitioned into Durango’s system.

“Because of his work ethic, the kids look at him as one of our leaders now,” Maki said. “He came with us to camp and has done a real nice job.”

Senior Antonio Nieves also factors into Durango’s rushing plan. At receiver, senior Hunter Knight forecasts as a top target.

Maki said he was confident in the skill players, but disappointed with the way his offensive line had performed in a recent scrimmage.

Despite returning Aleks Vekic and Bing Lin, the unit hasn’t performed up to par in practice.

“We’ve got to pick it up there,” Maki said. “Both sides of our trenches are where we need the most work.”

Senior Ignacio Mendoza should provide some help, as Maki labeled him as one of the team’s leaders. Expect senior linebacker Tyler Lavin to be one of the squad’s top tacklers.

“This isn’t a bad group to work with,” Maki said. “They lack a lot of experience and that shows, but they’re a refreshing group. They want to succeed.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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