The New Mexico Thunder, of Albuquerque, had a week-one bye as the 11-team New Mexico Independent Football League kicked off its 2016 season one week ago. Sunday, the Thunder finally get to strap it up in a home game at Van Buren Middle School against the Capital City Warriors of Santa Fe.
“Just like every year, we want to win everything,” Thunder general manager Dave Torres told DFUSA. “We were two games shy of it last year. The team we lost to (the New Mexico Miners) actually ended up in the championship game last year and lost by just a couple of points. We laid an egg in the playoffs. We beat that team during the season pretty handily, just didn’t have a good game in the playoffs.”
Last season is history and it’s a clean slate for the Thunder, who are entering their third season with high ambitions.
“We want to win a championship here in our league, then go on to Colorado and win that game and then go to nationals in December,” Torres said.
With football, every game is important and the first step is taking care of business on Sunday against the Warriors, who were blanked last weekend, 46-0, against the Santa Fe Venom.
Last year’s lone loss of the regular season for the Thunder came against the New Mexico Titans, who have won the NMIFL Championship the past two seasons. The Titans are joined by a few other teams as the prime teams the Thunder will have to get through if it hopes to bring home some hardware.
“I think it’s between the Titans, the Miners and the (Duke City) Marshalls,” Torres said. “I think they’re going to be a team to contend with. There’s a team out of Vegas, New Mexico, called the Grizzlies. They gave us a really good game last year, which we won 12-6.”
The Thunder are led offensively by 6-foot, 180-pound quarterback Jordan Ratliff, who will be protected by 6-foot-2, 275-pound offensive tackle Lane Miller, 5-foot-11, 230-pound center Stefan Bishop and the rest of the offensive line. Running back Curtis Smith looks to be the primary ball-carrier for the Thunder, which looks to emphasize the run more in 2016.
Defensively, the 4-2-5 has been a staple the past few seasons for the Thunder. On that side of the ball, two linebackers will lead the way in 6-foot, 230-pound Roland Smith and 5-foot-10, 230-pound Joseph Ortiz.
“They’re going to be two of the studs in the league this year,” Torres said.
The Thunder are led by head coach Vada McCoy, while Reggie Ballard, Jean Vega, Steve Woods and Zach Foster round out the coaching staff.