Muleshoe went 1-19 in the two years preceding head coach Jason Richards’ arrival. He doubled that win total in his first season at 2-7 before tripling that total last year with a record of 6-6.
The Mules enter Year 3 in Richards’ system with nine returning starters on defense, seven coming back on offense, and possibly the highest expectations they’ve had since winning state in 2008.
This year’s seniors were sophomores when Richards and company took over, have been through all of the growing pains and are ready to take the next step.
“We’re pretty fortunate that we’ve got a lot of three-year lettermen returning,” Richards said. “They have a lot of real experience under their belt, and we may have one of the best group of skill kids that Muleshoe has had in a while. We’re really excited about this group.”
It all starts on defense.
While the Mules will have to replace middle linebacker Brennen Davis (now at Eastern New Mexico) and defensive Jacob Reyes (an all-district performer), everyone else from last year is back. That includes Davian McMullen, who will move over from weakside linebacker to take over Davis’ spot.
“He’s had a tremendous offseason,” Richards said. “He’s probably one of the best leaders on our entire football team.”
Those key skill players Richards mentioned will fill out the secondary, while every defensive lineman, sans Reyes, will be back as well. Richards says the Mules have more quality depth upfront than in either of his first two seasons.
While Richards raved about the skill position players returning on offense, it’s that side of the ball where Muleshoe has the biggest question mark. It’s a two-horse race at quarterback between junior Sebastian Kirven and sophomore Nathan Mertens. Kirven was a second team all-district tight end as a sophomore, while Mertens is a quality athlete who played basketball and ran the 300-meter hurdles.
While the job is up for grabs, Richards anticipates that both will see ample playing time in Week 1.
No matter who ends up taking the bulk of the snaps this year, Richards says the starter won’t have to put the world on his shoulders thanks to the help the Mules have at key positions.
“With the quality of receivers that we have, they can take some pressure off of our youth at quarterback so he doesn’t have to do too much,” he said. “Just get the ball to those guys and good things are going to happen.”
The arrow is pointing up and there’s plenty to be excited about if you’re a Muleshoe fan. With that being said, don’t expect it to be a walk in the park. In addition to finding a quarterback, the Mules also have to fight through a district with powerhouses Shallowater and Bushland, an improving River Road and youthful but talented Dalhart team.
Richards has helped navigate the Mules through the ups and downs of the last two years, however, and there’s reason to believe he’ll find a way to do it again this season.
No matter what happens, expect the Mules to give it their all game in and game out.
“Since I’ve been here we’ve done a really good job of scheduling a tough nondistrict football schedule to try and prepare for (district play),” Richards said. “We’re going to have to play great this year. We can go 10-0, 0-10, 2-8, or 8-2. That’s how competitive our schedule is. We’re going to have to be at our best every single week.”
Head coach — Jason Richards
2021 record — 6-6 overall, 4-1 in district
Base offense — Spread
Base defense — 4-2-5
Last playoff appearance — 2021
Top returners: Davian McMullen, Sebastian Kirven, Irvin Torres, Daniel Sianez, Nic Reyes, Judas Reyes, Eliaser Cisneros, Jonathan Salinas, Uriel Vasquez, Ramzee Martinez
* — denotes District 2-3A Division I game
Aug. 26 — at Littlefield, 7 p.m.
Sep. 2 — at Lamesa, 7 p.m.
Sep. 9 — vs. Friona, 7 p.m.
Sep. 16 — at Tulia, 7 p.m.
Sep. 23 — vs. Abernathy, 7 p.m.
Sep. 30 — vs. Brownfield, 7 p.m.
Oct. 7 — at Bushland*, 7 p.m.
Oct. 21 — vs. River Road*, 7 p.m.
Oct. 28 — at Shallowater*, 7 p.m.
Nov. 4 — vs. Dalhart*, 7 p.m.
This article originally appeared on Amarillo Globe-News: Muleshoe football aiming to take the next leap forward in 2022