The Duke City Marshals made New Mexico developmental football history last season by becoming the first team from the Land of Enchantment to win two national championships when they pitched a 40-0 shutout against the Tuscon Desert Demons (11-2) in the All-American Headquarters National Championship Game in Camp Verde, Ariz.
The Demons had won the AAHQ Title the year before against the Las Cruces Kings, but that changed when they met the Marshals (13-0), the New Mexico Independent Football League Champions. The Demons entered the game 11-1 and champions of the Arizona Football League, but were stopped from adding any additional hardware by the Marshals defense.
Duke City had defeated the defending NMIFL Champions, the New Mexico Titans, 15-13 on Aug. 9, to win their league and dethrone the Titans, before advancing to nationals.
“They had about six state championships in the last 10 years and they also have a national championship under their belt,” Marshals owner Kevin Gutierrez told Developmental Football USA. “We struggled in that game, but we were able to come out on top.”
When facing adversity at different moments throughout the season, the Marshals remembered everything they fight for on each snap of the football.
“The team sponsors a young child, his name is Liam and he is battling a rare disease called kawasaki disease,” Gutierrez said. “The team has grown very fond of this kid and he’s become part of the team. On the back of our jerseys we have ‘Liam Strong.’ He could have a heart attack any day. That kid gives us strength. When we’re down and out he gives us strength to keep fighting. Last season, we dedicated every single home game as a charity event. All money we raised went to his family to help with medical bills and travel expenses.”
The Marshals won their first AAHQ National Title in 2014, 16-13, over the Southwest Stampede of the AzFL, after knocking off the El Paso Raiders in the NMIFL Championship Game, 34-33.
Being on top of the developmental football world in their area, the Marshals have a target on their backs, but with several key players coming back in 2017, dethroning them will not be an easy task.
“We have a lot of guys returning and we are adding some new guys to the team too,” Gutierrez said. “We definitely have a target on our back. A lot of teams are coming after us this year, especially the Titans. We knocked them off their pedestal last year, so I know they’re definitely going to be gunning for us.”
The Marshals are stout on both sides of the ball, so knocking off the defending champions will take much more than just catching a few breaks.
“They definitely say we are well balanced,” Gutierrez said. “We have a really good offense and a pretty stout defense. Usually, if one or the other is struggling, one will pick up and help manage the game. “
Offensively, Duke City’s attack begins in the backfield.
“The key people on offense is our quarterback Cedric Odie – he’s an all-around playmaker, he does it throwing the ball and running the ball – and our running back Godsey Tross,” Gutierrez said. “He was a running back from Washington State. When we were struggling in the passing game, that guy carried us on his back and of course our entire offensive line, they just dominated all season.
“I can’t say enough about our quarterback. He’s talked around the league about the best quarterback in New Mexico. He’s been to all of the league all-star games and he’s an all-around good guy that can play some football.”
The Marshals have a star-studded defense for their league and three players in particular have played a major role in getting them to that level.
“Christian Atencio is a lock-down corner,” Gutierrez said. “He shut down some of the best wide receivers in the league and had an amazing season. Skylar Sargent, he’s one of our defensive ends, he plays o-line and d-line and he led the league in sacks this season, which he has done the last five seasons in a row. He had 13 sacks.
“We had a guy playing out of position, Lawrence Samuels. He’s normally a safety but he was playing middle linebacker for us. He filled in at middle linebacker because our starting middle linebacker actually got in a motorcycle accident and was out last season. He filled in for us and was pretty much the leader of the defense, he got everybody on the same page and made play after play.”