Pahrump Valley taking long ride to open football season

Joe Clayton is not one to set specific goals before a season. Until now.

The Pahrump Valley High School football coach, armed with an experienced team and facing what, on paper, is a more favorable schedule than last year, has high expectations for his team.

“For the first time, I’ve had the confidence to put those goals in place and know that they can reach them,” Clayton said. “I never wanted to put a goal on something that I didn’t think they can reach. We talked as a staff and said, ‘You know what? These guys need to know that we want a league championship.’ We’ll take it a step further once we get that league championship.”

Clayton has 17 starters back from a team that went 4-6 last year, including a playoff loss to Virgin Valley. While first-team Class 3A all-state lineman Jeremy Albertson graduated, as did starting quarterback Dylan Coffman, Clayton feels good about his line and his quarterback.

“Our strength has been our defensive and offensive line, simply the size and the strength of those front guys,” he said. “We brought up a couple of sophomores in Jacob Lopez and Anthony Pearson, who have worked really hard to make the varsity lineup. They’ll get some reps on defensive line and offensive line, but it will mostly be the same five guys,” meaning seniors Brandon Bunker, Zach Trieb and Kody Peugh and juniors Caleb Sproul and Joaquin Souza.

At quarterback, Clayton has liked what he has seen over the summer from senior Tyler Floyd at the controls of the jet offense.

“He looks really good, really confident,” Clayton said. “The nice thing is he’s run this offense since he was a freshman.”

Senior Nico Velazquez was a first-team all-region running back despite being hampered by an injury that limited him to 39 carries and 247 yards a year ago. But he will have help.

“Nico’s going to get a lot of our carries, but we have a good three or four running backs to run by committee,” Clayton said. “Because we’re so thin, we kind of have to rely on that to give guys a rest.”

Being thin is the biggest obstacle to the Trojans’ chances of achieving their high goals.

“When we say thin, we’re looking at in the mid-20s as far as varsity players. Usually, we like to be around 30,” Clayton said. “Right now, Dee Brown and Josh Belcher are starters on both sides of the ball who are injured.”

Those are significant losses. Brown was the team’s leading rusher last year with 480 yards, while Belcher is also the kicker. Clayton said Andrew Avena will handle kicking duties until Belcher is cleared to play. Avena is also a running back and a starting cornerback.

In the return game, foes will see a lot more of Velazquez.

“Nico Velazquez is one of our best return guys, both kickoffs and punts,” Clayton said. “He’s just a good all-around athlete. Casey Flennory is also going to step up as a running back and a return guy.”

The Class 3A Sunset League has a new look this year. All three teams Pahrump Valley lost to in league play — Desert Pines, Sunrise Mountain and Mojave — have moved out, while Democracy Prep, Valley and Del Sol have moved in. On paper at least, the Trojans have an easier path, but Clayton is not ready to assume a win on any given night.

“There’s going to be parity more than ever before,” he said. “Every Friday night, anybody can win.”

That is why Clayton is counting on his own players, rather than the changing opponents, to make things happen this fall.

”It’s not just the experience, they’ve played together for a while,” Clayton said. “They’re close friends, they’re a tight-knit group. We don’t have to hold them accountable as much, because they hold each other accountable.”

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