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Coach forged in family and blue, rewarded in red

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Everything Art Bolanos has gotten in life has been by the sweat of his brow. It was heaped upon him as a kid by his parents, father, Ruben Sr.; and mother, Josie; who raised him to be tough and strong, and a man of compassion.

Ruben Sr. expected his children to get an education as a way of obtaining a better life than he had. Ruben Sr. came to Roswell from Michoacan, Mexico, where he didn’t have the opportunity to get an education, so he stressed education to his children.

“My dad is from Mexico,” Art Bolanos said. “He worked hard with his hands all his life. He taught us the value of hard work. My dad never skipped a day of work; every day my dad was accountable. My parents really pushed us to get an education.”

Art Bolanos would not have to walk his path alone, he had an example to show him the way. His older brother, Ruben Bolanos (Jr.), would help and guide him. In the end, it was up to Art Bolanos to do the work and believe in himself.

“Ruben Jr. was just a good big brother,” Art Bolanos said. “He was the guy that set the example for our family. He was the first to go to college and graduate.”

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Work ethic

Art Bolanos at Goddard High. (Submitted Photo)

Art Bolanos has succeeded because of a work ethic forged in the hot sun. As a youth, he spent summers in the sun pulling railroad ties, running sprints and conditioning his body for the football season.

He was schooled in the ways of old school toughness and made to think he could conquer the man across from him, no matter how big his opponent was. Former Goddard football coach Sam Jernigan had a way of making his players feel they could do the impossible with nothing, and win Blue Trophies with will over skill.

Goddard’s 1993 championship team beat Clovis, 24-21, in Clovis his sophomore year. Art Bolanos lives the motto Jernigan taught his players, “Never give up, never give up, never give up.”

Art Bolanos as a player at Goddard High. (Submitted Photo)

Art Bolanos’ success as a coach can be traced back to living the values taught to him at a young age: loyalty to God, family, friends and job. Giving less than his best was not accepted. Those core values and principles have been exhibited throughout his life and propelled him to be named 2020 New Mexico High School Coaches Association Assistant Football Coach of the Year.

“Winning the award,” Art Bolanos said, “I was honored and humbled. New Mexico coaches do not get enough credit. There are a lot of good coaches in this state. I feel honored to be selected. This award represents the good coaches and players we have in our program at Roswell.”

Special relationship

The award may seem like Art Bolanos was an overnight success, but it has been 15 years in the making of relentless study, learning all phases of the game, going to coaching clinics, being open to new techniques and constantly building relationships with coaches and players. For Art Bolanos, coaching is boiled down to investing in the lives of the young men entrusted to him to coach. Art Bolanos feels like coaching is not about the wins and losses, or Blue Trophies, but about making an impact on the young men he deals with on the field and off.

The relationship between Roswell head coach Jeff Lynn and Art Bolanos has grown. It went from Lynn having input in the beginning, eight years ago, to where Lynn leaves Art Bolanos and the defensive staff alone.

“If I had never coached for Jeff (Lynn)” Art Bolanos stated, “I would never know the coach I truly am. Never. Jeff (Lynn) even in games, never comes to me and says, ‘I want you to do this.’ He trusts me wholeheartedly. Those two years were the changing point for us. I really appreciate Jeff.”

When both started together, Roswell ran a 4-4 defense and had trouble matching up with Artesia. After two years of running a split defense, the Coyotes switched to a 4-2-5 defense while playing a cover three on the back end. Art Bolanos makes decisions to fit the schemes to his player’s strengths.

Art Bolanos talks to one of his players during a game. (Submitted Photo)

“Art has been with us from day one,” Lynn said. “He’s been loyal, and a really good coach. Art Bolanos has grown into that. As a defensive coordinator, he’s intense and good with the kids. He has the kids’ respect, and he’s a quality human being and good quality coach.”

Lynn has trust in Art Bolanos with the defensive game plan and gives him total autonomy to run the defense as he sees fit. Art Bolanos will make in-game adjustments. That could be in the locker room at halftime, or in the second half after a series. Art Bolanos likes coaching on the field instead of in the booth. He feels like he can feel the energy of the players and the tempo of the game by being on the sidelines.

Loyalty

“Our parents instilled loyalty in us,” Ruben Bolanos, brother, and director of Stem & Technical Education said. “Loyalty is bigger with us. My dad taught us that a man’s good word and handshake is as good as gospel. My dad told us, ‘I’m not leaving you money, but I’m leaving you a good last name, my word and who you are.’”

Ruben Bolanos is proud of his brother, Art Bolanos because he kept his mouth shut and learned from other coaches that had more knowledge of the game than him. Ruben Bolanos noted Art Bolanos and other local coaches talked “Air Raid” football at Dan Foley’s house with then-Texas Tech coach Mike Leach, and then-New Mexico State coach Hal Mumme, when they did the New Mexico Military Institute three-day football clinic.

Often coaches would come to Roswell and chalk-talk football while drinking coffee until the wee hours of the morning. Art Bolanos has learned as a coach, that no matter how much football he knows, if he can’t get his players to execute during the game, his knowledge is meaningless.

“Art is probably ready to be a head coach somewhere,” Ruben Bolanos said. “He understands God, family and commitment. He has those and he’s committed to Roswell High School right now. It wasn’t easy for him to leave Goddard and go to Roswell. I’m proud he was willing to go through the process and become a quality coach. Art Bolanos still continues to be a student of the game.”

Art Bolanos has a one-on-one talk with one of his defensive players. (Submitted Photo)

Art Bolanos’ football philosophy is to keep the game simple for his players. He wants them mean, hardnose and to play fast. The last four years of coaching have been the most fun for him. Not only have the championship games meant a lot to him, but all of the years he has coached.

Roswell has built a defense on speed, playing fast and a swag culture. When things go bad in games, the team doesn’t point fingers or yell at each other. Art Bolanos feels like they come together. The more pressure in the game, the more the defensive players want to be the ones to make the big play and win the game.

Defense wins championships

Art Bolanos holds the Blue Trophy after Roswell won the Class 5A state championship last season. (Submitted Photo)

Art Bolanos has done it on defense in different ways. He’s had starters returning and the New Mexico Preps Player of the Year in Cade Manzanares as linebacker. In 2019, he’s coached a defense with 10 new starters. If there was a busted play or Roswell gave up a touchdown, Art Bolanos always would turn a negative into a teaching moment to explain situational football.

In last season’s game against Hobbs on the road, with one second on the clock before halftime, Art Bolanos called a prevent defense. It was fourth down and 27 yards to go for a first down and 28 yards for a touchdown.

One of the defensive backs was playing the middle of the field. The defensive back sees Hobbs’ running back come up behind the linebacker and thought screen pass. He moves out of position and Hobbs throws a vertical pass to score right before halftime.

That play against Hobbs, Roswell would see again in the championship game against Los Lunas. On fourth down and time running out, the Tigers had the ball and was moving toward a score. The same identical play that happened against Hobbs was repeated. Roswells’ Freddie Anaya made the read as Los Lunas’ Kade Benavidez floated a pass over the middle of the field with Anaya making the interception and preserving the win for Roswell, 25-19, with 1:21 in the game.

“I can honestly say,” Art Bolanos said, “when we are in clutch moments, we don’t hit the panic button.”

In the 2019 championship game against Los Lunas, Roswell trailed at halftime for the first time all year, 12-10. Instead of getting upset, Art Bolanos huddled his defensive players together and smiled at them. “Listen fellas, this is a great game, is it not?” The kids relaxed and said, it was a great game.

“We are going to do this and come out on top,” Art Bolanos said looking at each kid in the eye. “All you have to do is believe it, and do what I tell you. This is competition. Don’t panic, this is a four-quarter football game, we still have a half of football left, let’s go get it!” With that, the locker room erupted, as the Coyotes took the second-half kickoff and drove the length of the field to score on their first possession.

“I think he would be a great head coach,” Roswell head coach Jeff Lynn said. “If he wants to do that, I totally support him in that. You want guys on your staff that are competitive, driven and have goals, and if that is one of his goals, I will totally support him.”

One of the main reason’s Art Bolanos has evolved as a coach is he has learned the physical game at Goddard. For most teams, it all starts in the trenches. The key to any defense is being successful in stopping the run on defense, on offense being able to run the ball. After working with the defensive backs and seeing the game from a passing perspective, he decided to try a different vantage point on the football field.

In 2017, he started working with the linebackers and was able to see how the linebackers had to be physical enough to stop the run, and fast enough to defend the pass. That small change helped make him a better coach.

Giving back to kids

Art Bolanos is proud of earning his college degree without playing sports. One of the reasons he tells kids this is to give them hope. He wants to let kids know education, whether it is vocational, a college degree is a key to a good life. Art Bolanos tries to make an impact off the field as well as on the field. His message to all kids is they can be successful in life.

“I always tell kids they can go to school for free,” Art Bolanos said. “I always had the idea that college was for rich kids. I had no idea I could go to college. Danny Herrera used to work at ENMU-Roswell, I give him a lot of credit. He helped me fill out my FAFSA. I’m really grateful to him.”

Art Bolanos knows he’s a role model to students and players at Roswell, and those on the south side. He feels like he grew up just like them and can relate to their struggles. Some of his players come from single-family homes. Art Bolanos knows how fortunate he was to grow up in a two-parent home.

“Football aside,” Art Bolanos said, “I enjoy hanging out with these kids. These kids need so much guidance and someone to talk to. They are looking for someone to trust and believe in them. Sometimes it is tough love, I just like being good to kids.”

Art Bolanos stresses the positives to his players and knows most of them will not play football beyond high school. On his journey, Art Bolanos is more concerned with what kind of fathers and husbands his players will turn out to be.

Winning the NMHSCA Assistant Coach of the Year Award has meant a lot to him. He is quick to give credit to the assistant coaches, especially Derrick Gomez. He mentioned assistant coaches, David “OG” Lynn, Jacob Avalos, Robbie Lavato, Tim Fuller, Jesse Boggs, Micah Trujillo and Jourdan Rodriguez (current defensive coordinator at Los Lunas ) who do their job well. Art Bolanos feels the coaches are a cohesive unit that gets along well.

The key to his success as a coach has been the love of his life, Emily, and their four children, Aubrie, Josiah, Mila and Jaiden.

“When it is all done with,” Art Bolanos said, “I would like for kids to say ‘coach Bolanos really cared about me and wanted the best for me.’ The kids are the most rewarding thing for me.”

Sports editor J.T. Keith can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 304, or sports@rdrnews.com.