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Confident Pahrump Valley football players expect to contend again

You might think the Pahrump Valley High School football team expects to take a step back this season. After all, the ground-oriented Trojans graduated 84 percent of their rushing yards, the top lineman in Class 3A South and their leading tackler.

You would be wrong.

“Our team’s way better this year, honestly,” junior Tony Margiotta said after a morning practice. “We’re way more together. Everybody’s working together, and our blocking is just fabulous.”

Senior Kody Peugh agrees with Margiotta.

“This is my first year running the ball, and since I started running the ball it’s been easy lanes to see,” Peugh said. “Everyone just kind of works together, so if there’s one guy getting beat, there’s someone there to help.

“It’s a lot easier to move the ball with them blocking like that. It’s like a family unit.”

It is difficult to imagine the Trojans moving the ball any better than they did last season, when they smashed a fistful of the school’s offensive records. A team that didn’t have a runner with as many as 500 yards rushing in 2017 had Nico Velazquez top 1,400 and Casey Flennory finish with 800 in 2018.

Way better? Really?

“We’ve got a lot of underclassmen stepping up,” junior Andrew Avena said. “We’ve got quite a few big linemen that are stepping up. Our skill guys are looking good, and in the secondary we put in a new defense.”

Either a lot of Kool-Aid is being passed around Trojan Field, or these guys truly believe they not only can repeat as Sunset League champions but put up numbers even more gaudy than last year’s. Surely some coach-speak will put a stop to this.

“What we see is this group is as strong or stronger and works harder than any group we’ve ever had,” coach Joe Clayton said. “I don’t know if it has anything to do with being league champs or it’s just their mentality, but they know where they’re at now and they have to work that much harder.”

After years — a lot of them — of being the hunter, Pahrump Valley is now the hunted. The Trojans went more than 20 years between winning seasons, and now two in the past three years has them talking like a perennial powerhouse. But the way Clayton sees it, that’s fine as long as the work ethic that got them there remains in his players.

“We’re the top dogs,” Clayton said. “Everybody wants to beat us now. No matter what role you played last year, you’re still part of that championship team. But they know, every single day, the effort we expect. We hold them accountable, and I think that just goes along with it.

“They’re expecting to be champions every year now. We’ve ingrained in their heads how important it is not to take a day off, not take a sprint off, not take a rep off. We’re expecting to win every game.”

The players seem to have bought into that and say they are ready for the challenge of being the team everybody wants to beat.

“Last year we were out to get the title,” Peugh said. “We did, and this year we want to keep it and we want to go further. We want to be state champs. If somebody’s trying to slack off, somebody’s there pushing them to make sure they’re going their hardest. No cutting corners.”

“We’ve been mentally preparing for having the target on our backs, and it’s only motivating us to train harder,” Avena said, adding a message for this year’s opponents: “It’s going to be tougher for them because we’ve been preparing for that.”

“Winning changes a lot of things,” Clayton said. “Everybody’s happier. They know what it takes to win. They know that we’re striving for that. Today we just commented as a staff about how hard these guys are working. What they showed today is we’re right where we want to be.”

Taken at face value, what Clayton and three of his team leaders are saying is that the Trojans are making the step from being a good team to being a good program. And they’re willing to work as hard now as they did on the way up.

“We’re in our seventh year as a staff, and we’re getting boys who have been in the program for four years,” Clayton said. “They know what it takes, they know what they need to do, they’re still coming back. It’s almost like it’s just expected: We’re going to be champions every year.”

Margiotta, whom Clayton said “could be the type of kid that touches the ball 30 times a game,” loves hearing that.

“That just makes us work even harder as a team, go to state and win and get a championship under our belt,” he said. “Last year the shops were closing down to come see us. They’re not used to us getting that far as a football team. So this year, if we just do that again, it’s going to be huge.”

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