SANTA FE

Head coach Mark Kanipes feels his team can compete in District 23-5A, and with the wealth of talent the Santa Fe Indians return on offense, there’s optimism the program can make its first visit to the postseason since 2009.

However, to reach that goal, the Indians must learn how to seal the deal. Santa Fe finished 3-7 last season, yet either they had the lead or were tied in the second half of four games (all in district play) they eventually lost. Those were hard lessons the Indians will bring with them when practice starts Aug. 7.

“We have to prove that we can finish,” Kanipes said. “That’s going to come from us winning a game that no one expects we can. That’s going to come from us being able to take the success of something like that and building our confidence. This is, as always, a tough district, especially when you look at Manvel and Fort Bend Marshall, but we have as good a chance to make the playoffs like anyone else.”

The Indians will look to build things around an offense that brings back the bulk of their skill position players, including junior quarterback Nathan Kruger, who finished last season with nearly 1,400 yards and 10 touchdown passes. Already drawing attention from college scouts, Kruger presents Santa Fe with a game-altering presence and will throw to veteran receivers Josh Blankenship, Austin Lamb and Landon Thompson.

“Nathan’s come a long way from where he was at this time last year,” Kanipes said. “He’s got an excellent work ethic and has a desire to make himself better each day. He’s doing a lot of things that outstanding quarterbacks do to take their game to the next level. He’s going to arrive here stronger and faster, and I think he’ll be more than ready to have a great season.”

The ground game will be just as sound, as the Indians bring back their top three rushers in Bryce Montemayor, Thompson and Kruger. The trio will be counting on an offensive line that brings back three starters, giving Santa Fe the ability to trade shots with opponents.

If the team is going to have a chance to compete for the postseason, the Indians will have to bolster a defensive line that suffered a major hit when promising junior Michael McVey was lost for the season with a knee injury in April.

“That really hurt us to lose Michael,” Kanipes said. “We were expecting big things out of him. We’ll have to make the adjustments to make sure our guys will be ready to play.”

Kanipes does feel good about the rest of his defense, especially in the secondary where he will be counting on his skill players on offense to also step up. Senior safety/linebacker Tyler Martin also returns after recording three interceptions last season, while senior cornerback Braden Bouvier’s 6-foot-2-inch frame will allow him to have a size advantage over the majority of receivers he will face.

“We have the makings of a good team,” Kanipes said. “If everything comes together, I think we can have a shot at achieving our biggest goals.”

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