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Mon, May 20

Revitalizing the Wildcats
Mayer turns to alum Gutierrez as next coach

From left, Mayer High football coaches Pat Statler, Mike Gutierrez, Brad Ostendorf and Ethan Johnson meet with the team after practice on Tuesday, Aug. 16, at Mathern Field in Spring Valley. The Wildcats open the 2016 season with a Week Zero game at Tuba City Greyhills on Friday night. (Doug Cook/The Daily Courier)

From left, Mayer High football coaches Pat Statler, Mike Gutierrez, Brad Ostendorf and Ethan Johnson meet with the team after practice on Tuesday, Aug. 16, at Mathern Field in Spring Valley. The Wildcats open the 2016 season with a Week Zero game at Tuba City Greyhills on Friday night. (Doug Cook/The Daily Courier)

SPRING VALLEY — Mayer High alum Mike Gutierrez won a state championship in football with the Wildcats in 1994, and he intends to return the proud program to the upper echelon of the 1A Conference’s eight-man game.

Twenty-two years after he and his teammates claimed a share of the Class 1A title by tying Heber Mogollon, Gutierrez takes the reins as Mayer’s head coach in 2016 with a 25-man roster.

The Wildcats, who missed the playoffs with a 4-4 record last fall under former coach Rick Lashley, kick off the current campaign at 5 today versus Tuba City Greyhills in a Week Zero contest at Williams High in Williams.

Mayer’s first official practice was July 25, although school didn’t start until Aug. 15. The Wildcats have attended passing camps and lifted weights ever since.

“We’re ready,” said Gutierrez, a 1995 Mayer grad who served as the Wildcats’ JV coach the past two seasons, from practice Aug. 16. “We’ve been practicing four weeks, so it’s time to go play someone else.”

On offense, mobile, confident junior co-captain Dylan Wilhide (5-foot-8, 140 pounds) starts at quarterback for the graduated Chandler Gutierrez, Mike’s son. Wilhide’s strength is escaping up the field under pressure.

“It’s been great around here; things are definitely turning around at Mayer,” Wilhide said. “I’m proud to be on this team and have these coaches.”

The Wildcats will center their attack on the run, leaning on speedy senior halfback Gabe Young (5-6, 120) to carry the ball behind tenacious blocking fullback Dacodah Jensen (6-1, 185). Sophomore halfback Dade Herbert (5-10, 140) should garner carries, too.

“With Dacodah at fullback, he’s a strong kid,” said coach Gutierrez, an All-State tight end/defensive end at Mayer. “He’s ornery, and he never gets tired. Gabe Young, he’s quick, fast – not real big. But we’re telling him we’re not going ‘head up’ with anyone.”

Added Wilhide, “Our fullback, Jensen, we’re going to run him up the middle a lot. He’s a beast. And we’re going to try to get [it to] Gabe with his speed on the outside.”

Wilhide’s primary receiving targets are star senior wideout Gary Wells (5-9, 140), Wallace and senior tight end Peyton Statler (6-1, 160). Young, a third-year varsity letter winner, said the offense is pumped for the season.

“We’ve been running, running, running… conditioning,” Young said. “We want to go far this year.”

Defensively, Jensen at linebacker, Young at cornerback and senior LB Caleb Wallace (5-10, 165) lead the unit. Wallace, a sure-handed tackler, reads opposing offenses adeptly. He doubles as a solid blocking tight end.

“Everyone pushes themselves; no one ever gives up,” said Wallace, a third-year varsity player. “We have such a great core. We have fun and we play hard.”

Mayer may start the season shorthanded, however. Some players only recently completed their physicals while a few others are overcoming injuries. Starting senior right guard Gabe Piccinini (5-8, 170; ankle) and starting junior left guard Matt Bywater (5-11, 180; broken forearm) could miss upwards of two to three weeks.

Among other facets, coach Gutierrez has implemented longer practices for his boys, aiming to reinstitute tradition to a program that’s won three state titles all time in eight-man (1975, 1994, 2006).

“That’s what I think has been lost a little bit,” Gutierrez said regarding the tradition aspect. “And it’s no offense to any other coach that’s been here. But we [me and two assistant coaches] played here, and we know what the attitude of this community is and what is expected of it.”

This season marks the 10th anniversary of the Wildcats’ 2006 1A state championship team. Ethan Johnson, one of the cornerstones of that squad, joined Gutierrez’s staff as the lead defensive assistant. Pat Statler, Mayer baseball coach and a 1992 alum, and Brad Ostendorf of Minnesota are also on staff.

“They’ve taught us so much this past month, and not just football, but integrity, which goes into life, too,” Young said. “If we mess up in school, we’ve got to deal with it up here [at practice]. We’ve got to run. It’s our job. I love Mayer High School. It’s my home.”

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