Aug. 13—The plan never changes for Adrian Gonzales and the West Las Vegas football coaching staff.
"We coach the guy that are there to get ready to play," said Gonzales, the Dons' ninth-year head coach.
That was the mantra in 2021, when West Las Vegas came off a 20-month pause from football because of the coronavirus pandemic with a team of mostly underclassmen. That is the mantra in 2022, as just 22 players have consistently suited up for preseason practice and for Thursday's scrimmage at Santa Fe High.
Even though West Las Vegas came off a successful 8-4 campaign and a third straight 3A quarterfinal loss to eventual state champion Las Vegas Robertson, a harsh reality materialized in the summer and continued through tough two-a-day practices.
Once again, the Dons will be young, with mostly juniors and sophomores dotting the roster supporting a group of five seniors. But Gonzales said a few seniors and junior linebacker/running back Isaiah Ortiz told him during the offseason they were not going to play, preferring to focus "on the future."
Their absence of so many players befuddled Gonzales, who couldn't pinpoint the reason for the dearth of players.
"I don't know what it is," Gonzales said.
Perhaps the turmoil of a pair of incidents might be part of the blame. The town was impacted by the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire, which threatened it and impacted hundreds of families through much of the spring. That came on the heels of a troubling New Year's Eve shooting involving two senior players that left one of them dead.
Still, the Dons will trudge ahead with the hopes of competing in a District 2-3A that will be the toughest in the class once again. At one point last year, four of the top six-ranked teams in 3A belonged in the district, and those same four — Robertson, West Las Vegas, St. Michael's and Raton — should be in the mix for the blue trophy this fall.
The Dons can boast arguably the district's best returning quarterback in sophomore C.J. Perea, who threw for 2,229 yards and 24 touchdowns a year ago. However, the graduation of running back Damian Gallegos and wide receivers Josh Gonzales and Cayden Rodriguez leave play-making holes for the coaches to fill.
Senior Jaydin Vigil will slide into Gallegos' role in the backfield, while senior Enrique Gonzales and junior tight end Pablo Montaño can provide targets for Perea.
The key to the Dons' success will come down to health, however. Last year's roster of 37 players could handle losing a few players to injuries. An injury or two now will have a more significant impact.
Coach Gonzales said he anticipates a few freshman to show up on Monday as the school year begins in earnest but admits a lot will be asked by so few.
"The guys we have out there are working hard, and we have a good group of guys," Gonzales said. "But right now, we will take whatever depth we can get."
After all, it's not like Gonzales and the coaches are changing their approach.