The 2011 high school football season is still 10 weeks away, but it's probably much closer than that in the mind of Kyle Henderson.
The gridiron genius behind the website nmpreps.com, and certainly the state's biggest high school football fan, Henderson has been working tirelessly on a list of the 100 greatest prep football teams of all time in the state of New Mexico.
Sorry, Rams and Storm fans: None of your teams is included in the top 100. Henderson has seen the Rams play for almost the last decade and he's been to several Storm games in their two years of existence. He's the man you've probably seen stalking the sidelines, occasionally raising a camera to his face to shoot some video, and wearing a horizontal "nmpreps.com" sign across his back.
Henderson was asked what team ranks as the greatest one of all time.
His answer? The 2004 La Cueva Bears, for myriad reasons: "They were 13-0. They scored 611 points for the season and allowed only 21. And this is the most impressive stat: They had 10 defensive shutouts," Henderson said.
"They're maybe one of the best ever, based on the body of work, and they were 13-0 the year before," he said. Nobody will have a problem with that. Those La Cueva teams would've beat Ronnie Daniels' (La Cueva, 2006-10) teams handily."
Coached by recently fired Fred Romero, the 2004 Bears won their first three games via shutout - 49-0 over Eldorado, 47-0 over Sandia and 40-0 at Clovis - before giving up a touchdown to visiting Las Cruces in a 34-7 victory at Wilson Stadium. St. Pius X also managed a TD the next week, a 36-7 Bears' homecoming victory.
Then came four more shutouts - 79-0 over Albuquerque High, 50-0 over Del Norte, 61-0 over Santa Fe and 21-0 over Highland. Putting an exclamation point on their run through District 2-5A, the Bears mauled Manzano, 58-7, setting up a rematch with their first opponent of the season, Eldorado, in a state quarterfinal contest.
The Bears showed the first meeting wasn't a fluke: They destroyed their Northeast Heights foe, 61-0. Then the Bears headed down I-25 to the Field of Dreams, where they crushed Las Cruces, 35-0, again showing their first-time victory over the Bulldawgs wasn't a fluke.
Following the re-match theme of the playoffs, La Cueva blanked Clovis again by the same score of their first matchup, also at Leon Williams Stadium, 40-0.
The Bears' winning streak grew to 28 before they lost to visiting Clovis, 10-7, in the third game of the 2005 season - capped by yet another 5A title for the Bears. Ironically, Clovis had handed the Bears their previous loss, 10-0, in the 2002 title game, also at Wilson Stadium.
Rio Rancho head coach Dave Howes said he'd have no problem voting the '04 Bears as the state's all-time best.
"I would say hands-down," he said. "It was one of the best football teams I ever saw."
Surprisingly, the Bears' roll through 13 games that season and a 26-game winning streak upon receiving the 5A trophy that December didn't get them much national publicity: La Cueva not only failed to make USA Today's top-25 poll but didn't even make the top-10 for the West region.
In case you've forgotten, here are the names of some of the top performers on that team: Frankie Baca, Zach Arnett, Seth Johnson, Clint McPeek, Bryan Pullen, Jeremiah Sears, Tyler Davis and Aaron Lewis.
Baca, Arnett and McPeek went on to play for the University of New Mexico; Aaron Lewis played for the University of Texas and was part of the Longhorns' national championship team in 2005.
One school that is rarely touted as a football powerhouse, which hasn't won a state title since 1962, is Gadsden.
"Gadsden, from 1955 to 1957, won 30 games in a row," Henderson said, noting the 1955 Panthers team is nmpreps.com's No. 56 team.
"What's impressive is they won three straight football titles in a row - under three different coaches, with three undefeated seasons in a row," Henderson said. "They had loads of talent."
The New Mexico Activities Association's website lists Gadsden as Class A state champion under head coach Maurice Molder in 1955, after a 27-0 victory over Raton; in 1956, under head coach George Ditirro, after a 38-13 win over St. Michael's (Henderson's alma mater); and again in 1958, under head coach Fred Byrd, after a 19-0 victory over St. Mike's.
Back then, Class A was second only to Class AA in school size; there were also smaller classifications, B and C, in the state, classifications in the state that lasted until 1969, with the advent of AAAA, AAA, AA and A.
Another impressive team, according to Henderson and his site, was the 2006 Mayfield Trojans, in its second of three straight 5A championship seasons, which went 13-0 during a 33-game winning streak against New Mexico teams.
Henderson, often in Rio Rancho watching the Rams and/or Storm, admitted RRHS has had some "pretty good" teams, namely when Chris Williams "and the explosiveness he brought" was in the backfield (2002-04) for the Rams, under head coach Phil Lopez.
Failing to get deep into the playoffs - the Rams have never gotten beyond the quarterfinals - has hindered their shot at a top-100 team berth.
After graduation, Williams headed south to Las Cruces for an outstanding four-season stretch with New Mexico State University; Lopez also headed south, to take the reins at Bel Air High, which he'll bring to Cleveland for the Storm's opener on Aug. 26.