Escalante continues to be a football powerhouse.
In tiny town where football is king, Giles guides tough athletes to titles
It was the summer of 2012 and the end of a long day in the Chama Valley when Dusty Giles was wrapping things up at Escalante High School.
The sun having set more than an hour prior, he got a call from one of the football players under his charge asking for a favor. The teenager at the other end of the line had just spent the entire day in the sun, digging fence post holes on a nearby ranch. He was wondering if Giles could open the weight room for him and a couple of his teammates.
“It’s dark out and these guys have to go right back out the next day and do it again, and here they are asking to go lift weights after dark,” Giles said. “Football, lifting weights; it’s an escape for a lot of them. Coming in and doing this; it’s the easy part of their day.”
It’s that blue-collar mentality that makes life in the Chama Valley such a treasure trove for athletics. Escalante’s teams are rarely short on numbers and the administrative support is strong across the board.
Proof comes in the sparkling new facility for football and track, the centerpiece being the bright red turf field that draws curious onlookers who’ve heard but have not seen.
Giles points out that students often work long hours during downtime supporting their families. Heck, even Giles himself double dips as athletic director and football coach during the day, then as the curator of the family restaurant and liquor store at night. In between, he squeezes in time as a husband, father and go-to guy for the keys to the weight room.
“People take pride in what they do up here, and a lot of it is representing the school and the teams they play for,” said Escalante Superintendent Anthony Casados. “We’ve been doing it this way for years, for decades.”
The trickle-down effect is a layer of thick-skinned toughness that permeates the Lobos’ football program. Players often tip the scales well below 200 pounds and stand a few inches south of 6 feet. None of it matters.
An opposing coach recently said that size usually translates to intimidation, and some games are won by intimidation alone. He said it’s never true for the Lobos.
“They come at you and just don’t stop,” the coach said.
Escalante has won three state titles since 2012 and is 61-7 since Giles started his second tour of duty as head coach five years ago. The Lobos have had a winning record in 22 of the last 31 years,
including a stretch of seven straight seasons (1994 to 2000) in which they were unbeaten in district play.
As a program, they have won more games in those 31 years (197) than Santa Fe High — Friday night’s opponent at Ivan Head Stadium — has won (196) since the NMAA expanded to a four-class system in 1970.
With an enrollment of just 105 students at the high school level (Santa Fe High has nearly 1,500), Escalante benefits from overwhelming participation. The football team has roughly 40 players, or more than 80 percent of all the male students in grades 9-12.
“The benefit of being a onehorse town is football is the only thing the boys have this time of year,” Giles said. “Bigger towns with multiple schools, they can offer the clubs and the soccer teams, cross-country. Football is all we’ve got and everyone who goes to school wants to play, pretty much.”
This year is going exactly to script. The Lobos are 7-0 and once again a favorite in the smallschool classification.
As easy as things seem to be, Giles said he noticed a dramatic shift in thinking during his first stint as the school’s coach in 2006 and 2007. The football team was just two years removed from forfeiting its final four games of the ’04 campaign due to a lack of players.
An Artesia graduate, he brought the Bulldogs’ wide-open passing attack to Tierra Amarilla that first year.
“We passed it probably 85 percent of the time,” Giles said. “We did OK because we won [seven] games but I realized we had to have an offense that fit the players we had. These kids are tough and they kind of do things a certain way.”
Giles visited with the staff at Las Cruces Oñate early in 2007, learning the intricacies of the option offense. He brought elements to the running game back to TA but bolted for what he thought was a better job in 2008 when he took over at Estancia.
“Dusty was my first son’s coach when he was here a good 10 years ago and after he left I knew I had to get him back,” Casados said.
“It’s a great place to be but I didn’t realize how great until after I’d left that first time,” Giles said. “You can’t beat the admin support, and the way the people in the valley do what they can to support us — this is the perfect place to coach. Everyone’s in, the players especially.”
The Lobos have gone from a perennial contender to smallschool juggernaut since Giles returned. The team’s first title capped an undefeated 2012 and it has been to the state semifinals five years in a row and six of the last seven. The active roster went from 18 players in that ’12 title run to the 35 to 40 it has every year since.
It helps that the entire coaching staff has remained intact since that season. The continuity only elevates the team-first mentality that fits so well in Tierra Amarilla.
“There aren’t a lot of rules here but the big rule is just doing your job,” Giles said.
The Giles 2.0 offense has essentially become a four-play variation of the spread option, putting the emphasis on the contact point between the quarterback and dive back up the middle. On film it seems like a simple scheme, but its complexity is in knowing assignments and having all 11 players work in unison.
“It’s always developing from year to year but, yeah, it’s every man out there knowing who needs to be blocked and when they need to be blocked,” Giles said, hearkening back to the summer night he had just weeks before his team launched into its first championship season.
“Really, that gets back to the way these guys do their jobs and show up here ready to do whatever they need to do,” he said. “They respond to the coaching. They come out here every day knowing what they have to do. … I mean, why would I want to coach anywhere else? This is what every football coach wants.”
ABOVE: Escalante head coach Dusty Giles watches his team play McCurdy last week in Española. BELOW: Players huddle around Giles during a timeout against McCurdy. The Lobos have gone 61-7 in Giles’ five seasons.