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.

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