Backs against the wall

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People are talking about the 2012 Socorro Warriors football team.

Jonathan Miller/El Defensor Chieftain: The Socorro Warrior prepare to kick off their 2012 season schedule.

After an appearance in the 2009 state championship game, the Warriors made two consecutive trips to the playoffs in 2010 and 2011, coming up just a game or two short of a return trip to the big show both years.

This indeed is a program that in recent years has earned its place in the upper echelon of Class 3/A football teams, and people are talking about it.

But not in the way it’s recently become accustomed to.

“I think we have that respect, but this year, more than any other year since I’ve been coach, we’re kind of getting written off,” head coach Damien Ocampo said. “I guess everybody just feels like they’ve got their backs against the wall.”

Despite Socorro being a postseason staple in recent memory, various preseason polls have them ranked anywhere from seventh to ninth in the state.

It’s no secret that the Warriors lost a bevy of talent to graduation, including four all-stars. From the outside looking in, the view suggests this squad’s players have some healthy expectations to live up to. The Warriors themselves might have a slightly different view.

“Those guys were great players. We’ve been playing with them for three years,” senior Zach Binger said. “We took those three years and tried to learn from them. That puts us in a better spot to fill those shoes.”

And the perception may be that the 2012 Warriors will have trouble filling those shoes, but a quick glimpse at the roster should suggest otherwise. Socorro returns 23 upperclassmen, and 15 of those are seniors. Along with Binger in the backfield, seniors Damien Baca, Dominic Montano and Adam Paz make for a scary veteran quartet. Add sophomore quarterback Tyler Crespin to the mix, then throw in senior wide out Ignacio Chavez and junior tight end Ethan Smith and you’ve got a group with an extensive familiarity of Socorro’s program.

While this may not be a bunch that has made many individual headlines since 2009, they do have that program experience, and a fitting attitude to go along with it.

“We kind of have a chip on our shoulder,” Binger said. “We’ve always been looked at as the year under this past class, the ‘dream class.’

We’re a good class, too. We’re talented. We have the ability to make plays.”

Those plays will likely be made by committee this year, as SHS will look to spread the ball out more, and Ocampo said spectators can expect the team to air it out a little more in 2012 also.

“I hope people will notice us throwing the ball a little bit more,” he said.

That doesn’t mean, though, that the Warriors will deviate too much from their recent strategy, which has obviously been a successful one.

Ocampo said they’ll still stick to their bread-and-butter running game, but it’s not so much a specific game plan that can make this year’s team successful, as it is a preferred style.

“We’re not hanging our hats so much on a scheme, but the brand of football we play,” Ocampo said. “We’re a real physical team. We like to get after folks.”

The defense will look to go into attack mode more frequently in 2012 as well, and the word “attack” will be a consistently operative term this season. One of the team’s sayings is “attack your mission.”

“It doesn’t matter who we’re playing,” Ocampo said. “Whether it’s the San Francisco 49ers or the Laguna-Acoma Skyhawks. It doesn’t matter what color jerseys they have or how big or fast or strong they are. Each and every one of our players has a mission, they have an assignment, and that’s what they’ve got to attack.”

Staying in attack mode might prove important for Socorro, as it will stare down a schedule this year that isn’t for the faint of heart. Six of their 2012 opponents made the playoffs last year, and four of them are ranked in the top six of Rivals.com’s 3A preseason rankings. Normally this would be a take-it-one-game-at-a-time situation, but this team is taking it a step further.

“We take everything not even one game at a time, but one rep at a time,” Binger said.

Another one of the team’s mottoes is “control what you can control, and don’t worry about the noise.” There’s been a lot of noise about the aforementioned and predicted “2012 drop-off,” but one intention of this team is to try and ignore all of the naysayers, as difficult as that may be.

“We’re focusing on this play, this thing we’re improving,” Binger said. “We’re focused on what we can control right now, and that’s getting better and getting ready.”

Aside from program experience and having a something-to-prove attitude, the Warriors have a sideline advantage that comes in the form of Ocampo being back at the head of the table. He’s widely known as one of the best coaches in the state, and his players hold him in high regard.

“In my mind, I see him as the greatest coach in the state,” Binger said.

“We’ve always looked up to Ocampo. We put him on such a high pedestal, and we have such great respect for him. We trust him 100 percent to lead us into battle, and do it the right way. That’s what really gives us an advantage.”

Another edge the 2012 Warriors have is their commitment to each other, the school and to football. A big theme with the team is family, and this family seems to truly have each other’s back.

“This team is a real tight knit group,” Ocampo said. “Having a family atmosphere isn’t just going to get you to play hard together. A lot of teams are going to play hard together. A true family atmosphere gives you the opportunity to fight through tough times. It’s when times are tough that families have to stick together.”

It’s difficult to predict how any football team will play during any given season, and Socorro is no different this year. Yes, they lost a load of talent and there are some question marks. But there’s no reason not to assume that this year’s team also has loads of talent — it’s just no one has seen it yet. There’s no reason to assume this bunch can’t turn some heads. After all, right now, everyone is 0-0, on the same playing field, all equal.

“As a coach, I think this team is a playoff team. If we protect the ball, stay healthy, the sky is the limit,” Ocampo said. “I think it’s a team that can possibly shock the state, if things go the right way and they stick together.”

The Socorro Warriors kick off the 2012 season when they play host to West Las Vegas at 7 p.m. next Friday.