If King High School football coach Eddie Hesseltine was not already on the sidelines wearing green and white, he would be in the stands somewhere at a football stadium in Corpus Christi on Nov. 4.
For the first time — with the help of the UIL — the city will have something many have clamored about for decades — an undisputed champion in football.
With every big school in the area in District 30-5A, the district champion can stake the claim as the best team in Corpus Christi.
“That last game of the season is going to mean something,” Hesseltine said. “I can tell you that I would really like to see all of those games. All of those games are going to be awesome.
“We’ve sold out Flour Bluff’s stadium the last few years and that has been the first game. I can’t even image if it is a zone game or a chance to play for a district championship or in a district championship against any of these teams here.”
Hesseltine’s Mustangs were with Carroll and Ray in 28-6A last year, regularly taking more than two-hour treks to San Antonio to play district games.
It not only sapped energy on the road, where it was difficult for friends and family to follow the team, but it hurt the energy at home as the road teams in district rarely traveled.
That won’t be a problem this year — whether it is at Buc Stadium, Cabaniss, or anywhere else in the district. Every school is a relatively short drive even for the visiting team.
Flour Bluff coach Chris Steinbruck said in addition to a great atmosphere and capacity crowds, bragging rights will be on the line.
“When King, Carroll and Ray are in 6A and you had Calallen, Flour Bluff, G-P and Alice in 5A, whoever won the 5A district, there would be talk around town ‘Well, they couldn’t beat Carroll,’” Steinbruck said. “Now we are all in the same district and same classification. It is going to be exciting. I hope more people come to the games and support all of our kids that have worked so hard throughout two-a-days.”
Though the excitement level is high now, there were questions and much to hammer out in the immediate days following the UIL’s District Assignment Appeals Committee decision to accept Calallen’s and Alice’s appeals and make a unique 11-team district in the spring.
The UIL created 10-team districts in 17-6A (Greater Houston) and in 28-6A (San Antonio Northside) but no other district in the state’s two largest classifications is larger than nine teams.
While every sport was allowed to handle scheduling for the district in its own way, football was a major question and the one that had to be answered first.
Would coaches be willing to play their entire schedule as district games, or was there a way around it?
The coaches and athletic directors decided it was best to create zones, splitting teams geographically, choosing a North-South split instead of East-West and schools playing Inter Zone matchups in non-district play to fill out their schedules.
This allowed decades-old rivalries to continue, while nearly every district game has some added incentive against a familiar school or familiar players.
Alice, Calallen, Gregory-Portland, Miller, Ray and Tuloso-Midway were grouped in the North Zone, while Carroll, Flour Bluff, King, Moody and Veterans Memorial were formed the South Zone.
“It is all about the city games,” King lineman Albert Villarreal said. “None of them are out of town anymore. Everybody we play, we know. Every game is going to be fun.”
Moody coach Mike Cantu, whose team was winless in 30-5A last year, said it benefitted his team to break into zones and maintain a non-district schedule.
“At the end of five non-district games we will know where we are at physically and mentally and at the same time now you have five games that you are going to play that mean something to get into the playoffs,” Cantu said. “There is always that hope. If you were in a 11-team district with 10 district games, you could lose your first two and be out of the playoffs.
“That is hard to get the kids up to work hard and come to practice for the next six or seven games.”
King already has a storied rivalry with Carroll, but with Veterans Memorial playing its first season — with many former teammates on the other side — along with all city teams in the same district, more rivalries could blossom.
With the split, the final week of the season was left to hash out the district championship and the final two playoff berths.
Calallen’s Phil Danaher said he had no comparison to the 2016 realignment in his more than four decades of coaching, but said the coaches ultimately made the right choice.
“I think it is a pretty good deal the way we set it up,” Danaher said. “I think all the coaches in our district did a good job of helping each other. Nobody is traveling as far because we are all playing Inter Zone games, which don’t count against you. That helped with the travel.
“Then it comes down to two No. 1s playing each other. Now that is going to be a big game. The 2s play the 3s, but the 3s can knock out the 2s. That makes the last game that much more important.”
Danaher added that even though more than one-third of the teams will make the playoffs, that every team will still have something to play for in the final weeks of the season, and that ultimately six teams will make a “playoff”, where only four would make it in a 10-game district season. The two zone winners will flip for home site for the district championship game, and the higher seed from each zone will host the games between the second- and third-place teams.
“It keeps everybody in the running longer,” Danaher said. “It is a good thing.
“They are all going to be big games early in the season, too. It gives everybody time to really get into what they want to do offensively and defensively.”
In most districts Week 11 is a primer for the playoffs or a chance to send out seniors on a winning note for teams that aren’t advancing to the postseason.
In District 30-5A’s new format, bragging rights will be on the line for 10 of 11 teams, which will play in the final week, including the district title tilt between the two zone winners.
Cantu said the teams that emerge from the massive district and reach the playoffs will truly be “elite teams” from South Texas, which will represent the area well.
For Flour Bluff quarterback Jaeger Bull, a Rice commit whose future is already set, his senior season is all about getting to “the game.”
“The new district, it is super exciting,” Bull said. “We get to play a lot of district games and it puts us in a situation where we get to potentially have that district championship game. I know we are all pumped about that. We are focused on getting to that game.”
Those with any football acumen will be the first to address any misconceptions about where ballgames are won.
Up front, mano y mano with the big boys.
“Yes, sir, that’s where the men are playing, in the trenches,” said Ray senior center Jon Olmos, who checks in at 6-foot-1, 265 pounds. “Without us, the offensive, defensive lines, it wouldn’t be the same.”
“Anybody that knows anything about football knows that the game is won at the line of scrimmage with the offensive and defensive linemen,” first-year Gregory-Portland coach Rick Rhoades said. “When I talk to my kids, I call my quarterbacks and receivers and defensive backs specialists. Then I call my linemen the real specialists.”
That is an interesting observation. In many ways, being a lineman, be it offense or defense, hasn’t changed much through the years. It is you against him, or you two against him in the case of a double team. Getting beat up front where the beef tangles usually determines the winning team.
Yet with the advent of the hurry-up, spread-the-field offenses that have littered the state’s high-school teams, linemen are asked to do — and be — a bit more than in years past.
“I watch film every day,” G-P senior nose guard George Villela said. “I practice extra, do extra stuff, extra defensive stuff like knowing the plays, the calls, snap counts.”
“It’s more study and more of just knowing what they’re doing and practicing it,” Calallen junior defensive tackle Justice Escobar said. “It’s not necessarily conditioning but knowing the plays they’ll be running at us.”
Knowledge is a key thing, to be sure. But it isn’t the only thing with which today’s linemen have to address.
“First of all they have to have pretty good feet. If you’re throwing the ball a lot, your linemen have to move their feet a bunch and staying up with the defensive rusher,” said coach Phil Danaher, whose Calallen team runs the Wing-T and Spread offenses. “You’ve got to stay in front of him to try and stalemate him off of it. They see a lot more stunts a lot of times because they’re trying to put pressure on the quarterback.”
“The game has changed from a play run every 25 seconds to a play being run every 10 seconds and you’ve got to be in shape,” second-year Ray coach Craig Charlton said. “As big as our young men are these days on the offensive and defensive line they’ve got to be in shape. You can’t take plays off.
“... Your backups, have got to be ready to step on the field because you have to be able to rotate them and get them playing time so you still have legs underneath you in the fourth quarter,” Charlton said. “That’s thrown back on our coaches to make sure we have a good, set rotation where a lot of kids are playing, that we have fresh legs throughout the game.”
Most players these days are in decent condition before reporting for two-a-days in August, so conditioning isn’t the issue it used to be. If it is, those players are usually culled from the mix or don’t figure into a team’s plans until later in the season when they’re in shape.
Being in shape and having intelligent linemen aren’t the end-alls, however. As Danaher alluded, agile linemen are preferred on both sides of the line of scrimmage.
“A lot more footwork is required, a lot more ability to visualize the entire field and know what’s going on,” Ray senior defensive tackle Max Hamilton said, “knowing what the other team runs and that’s all done in the practice before the game, watching film and doing scouting reports.”
Ensuring that a team has linemen with good footwork is a virtue more difficult to accomplish. Working with a finite pool of talent, a coach cannot recruit that agile lineman — at least he isn’t allowed to. Nor can he transform a group of stocky linemen into players with dancer-like footwork.
“I think you’ve got to address that in your offseason program and that’s always been our philosophy,” said Rhoades, who led Cameron Yoe to three state championships. “In our offseason, we’re not trying to develop good football players. We’re doing things to make our kids the best athletes that they can be.
“You’ve got to gear your offseason around it because those guys do have to be good athletes, they do have to be able to move in space,” Rhoades said. “They do have to have good hand-to-eye coordination, all the things that a good athlete has to have.”
So being a solid blocker with size, quick feet, intelligence and athleticism is preferred, and teams have to work to develop those players. But the basic tenets of playing on the line haven’t changed since Princeton and Rutgers first lined up almost 150 years ago.
“Really I don’t think there’s that much difference from what it was. Now a defensive front when it’s a running team, they’ve got to fight and play good technique and try and fight off an offensive lineman trying to block them,” Danaher said. “That’s not a whole lot different from fighting off an offensive lineman trying to protect a quarterback. It’s still a physical game and it’s still right there in front of them.”
Mano y mano.
ALICE — The temperature was in the upper 80s at Memorial Stadium as late as 5 p.m. as Alice players alternated between the bleachers and the concession stand, where water and sports drinks were being vended to all who braved the heat for Media Day and the intrasquad scrimmage that followed.
Naturally, the talk of the varsity linemen was the drought.
Just not the drought you’d expect.
“The urge to be in the playoffs,” said defensive end R.J. Rosales. “Our whole high school career, none of us has felt that feeling before, and we’re going to get that this year.”
“We just want to get this drought. We just want to end it,” said returning second-team all-district nose tackle Joseph Ramos. “Get some playoffs going.”
The struggle has been real for… two years?
“Two years. Too long,” Ramos said. “That’s too long for us. We’re not used to that, and we don’t like that. So we’re just looking to get in, and once we get in, it’s going to be hard to get us out.”
Enter a new coaching staff, anchored by former King offensive coordinator Justen Evans, who brought several new faces to Alice.
“The kids have really bought into what it is, the culture we’re trying to bring into the program,” Evans said. “And so they’ve been receptive to it. That makes it easier for us when we’re coming in here trying to transition from different coaches coming from different programs coming here with these kids.”
Also coming over from King was defensive line coach Rene Chavez.
“They are an experienced group who understands the game,” Chavez said of his linemen. “Their technique and their reads and their understanding of what’s coming at them from the offensive standpoint. They’re pretty on point, and they’re ahead of the game, most definitely.”
The new look has extended to the players as well. Thanks to a conditioning program instituted by Evans in the spring, returning varsity defensive end Gilbert Bernal dropped 25 pounds off his 5-10, 215 frame by “working, just grinding every day.”
“Our defense is going to be pretty good, but those guys are the rock right now, that defensive line,” Evans said. “They’ve got the most experience out of everybody, so we’re really excited about them and their ability to push the pocket and control the line of scrimmage.”
The linemen have been playing against each other since youth football, and with each other since seventh grade. This year marks the first time they’ll be suiting up together on Friday nights.
“Last year, there were some guys on JV, some guys on varsity,” Ramos said. “But now we’re all up here, and it’s even better. It’s even closer, like family-wise. We all believe in each other, and we’re all going to trust each other.”
On the shirts and hats of players and fans alike are the initials TTP — for “trust the process.”
“It’s basically what our motto is, if we’re going to be successful,” Evans explained. “There’s a process that comes into being successful. It’s not something that you just wake up in the morning and do. That process is through hard work, determination, being disciplined, character, integrity, all those things.
“It’s not only a team aspect, but from a community aspect,” the coach continued. “We all have to come together in order to achieve greatness.”
While some would see a mere playoff berth as a mark of greatness, others have set their goals higher and aren’t afraid to reveal them.
“We’re going to be district champs, and we’re not going to settle for less,” Rosales said. “We’re going to be the best D-line in the district, no doubt. We’re that confident.”
To play on the offensive line for Calallen, one has to be pretty sharp.
After all, few high-school teams utilize two offenses — two diametrically opposite schemes in the Wing-T and Spread — and operate them well.
So with the possibilities of returning to the playoffs for a 32nd consecutive season and Calallen’s Phil Danaher becoming the state’s all-time winningest coach, the Wildcats’ linemen were sharp enough to realize that wanting something badly enough requires not only intelligence, but work — extra work.
“I think one of the main differences is our linemen. We’re really getting out on the field and trying to run our plays,” said senior center Ryan Everett, a second-team all-district pick a year ago. “We can’t have a coach out there (in the summer). The UIL won’t allow a coach out there for us to be able to run plays. But we took it upon ourselves to run some plays and get some conditioning in on our own.
“That’s one of the main differences that I noticed from last year. We did lose three main seniors up front,” Everett said. “But these guys that are going to be juniors coming up that were sophomores, they’re big boys. I myself am one of the smaller guys. I’m 5-10, 255 and I’m one of the smaller guys.”
Those linemen, Everett, senior guard Carson Tipps — they are the lone returning starters — along with projected starters Duque Waddill, Sam Gentry and Weston Juelg are doubly charged with blocking Calallen’s traditional Wing-T and the Spread that was implemented several years ago.
“They really have got to be a student of the game where they communicate with each other on the line all the time,” said Danaher, who is nine wins shy of passing G.A. Moore as Texas’ winningest high-school coach. “By alignment or by shift, you’ll hear our linemen making calls and things. So they’re intelligent young men.”
Danaher said he has spent hours making the blocking schemes for each offense understandable, almost interchangeable in some instances. Becoming as familiar with each scheme as possible requires extra time, which is what the linemen put in during the offseason.
“We have a rather simple playbook of blocking schemes. A lot of the blocking schemes are the same,” Everett said. “It’s just knowing your calls and knowing your assignment, where you’re going to be, because you never know.
“Someone might line up at one gap and then on the snap of the ball he might end up in another gap. You’ve got to know your rules,” he said. “You’ve got to know the game, you’ve got to be able think. Whenever you see someone coming across, you’ve got to know that he’s your guy.”
As noted, the Wildcats have three holes to fill with the departures of offensive linemen Matt Cade, Logan Thomas and Nick Tovar. But the extra work the Wildcats have endured may make the transition better.
“I will say this, they’ve probably had one of the best offseasons that we’ve had in a long time,” Danaher said. “Our summer workouts were good. The spring, the kids really worked hard. We made a lot of improvement in strength and speed with our kids, which kind of excites us because they’ve got good work habits. The attitude is the main thing. They’re not individuals, they’re not playing for themselves, they’re playing for everybody out there and that’s always a good thing. Sometimes you get some selfish players and they can bring down a team real quick, too.”
That would be unacceptable for the Wildcats. They are confident they can do better than 2015, in which they finished 11-3 after losing in the Region IV-5A Division II final to eventual state champion Cedar Park.
“You know, Dave Campbell’s (Texas Football), they projected us to go to state. They predicted us to lose to Aledo but we want to be the ones to that win,” Everett said. “We want to win state this year. Win state or bust because this is my last year and I’m going to leave it all on the field. I’m going to make sure everyone else on my team leaves it out on the field because we really want it bad.”
Phil Danaher doesn’t feel any pressure right now.
That will come if Calallen can win its eighth game this year, tying the legendary Wildcats’ coach with G.A. Moore for most career wins in Texas high school football history.
“I’m going to go out to win games,” said Danaher, who has a career mark of 418-106-4 in 44 seasons. “Whether we win nine games this season or next season. It doesn’t matter. I’ve never really kept up with records until two years ago somebody mentioned ‘You’re only so many games behind.’ That was never one of my goals. Now that everybody has made such a big deal about it, it has kind of become a goal. I don’t want to let people down.”
That pressure not to let people down is what the Wildcats’ leader is concerned with when it comes to chasing Moore’s mark.
“The only pressure — where it will really get us — is going into that game to win No. 9,” Danaher said. “There will be a ton of our kids that have played here that will come back for it. I have friends that have called and said they plan to be there. Of course, the community will be there.
“What happens if you lose? ‘Y’all come back next week.’ There are a lot of people that will come from a long way — and my family. That is when I would feel the pressure that ‘Maybe I need to win this one, because a lot of people spent money to come.’”
Danaher won 25 games at Dilley in his first head coaching job, before leading Hamshire-Fannett to 43 wins.
Then he took over Calallen in 1984 and built the program into a South Texas power.
Now, 350 wins with Calallen later, Danaher is on the precipice of breaking one of the legendary high school records.
Adding pressure is the possibility that the record-breaking contest could be in a key district game, it could happen in the new District 30-5A Inter Zone playoffs (possibly in the district championship game), or even in the state playoffs.
The Wildcats have the pressure of high expectations, with Dave Campbell’s Texas Football projecting Calallen to play for a 5A state title, but Danaher doesn’t think the run for the record will be a negative for this year’s team.
“The kids know,” Danaher said. “It can be a positive thing or it can be a negative thing. I would hope that kids would want to win and be able to say they were on the team when we broke the record.”
PORTLAND — On the job for all of five months, Rick Rhoades may not know all the ins and outs of guiding the Gregory-Portland athletics program. With three state championships on his resume he does know a thing or two about football and what it takes to produce winning players and programs.
Leadership is one of them and he is more than satisfied with his linemen on both sides of the ball. In the spring, the Wildcats elected an eight-player leadership council of seniors, voted upon by the players. Two members are offensive guards Seth Watts and Jagger Weatherford and nose tackle George Villela.
“I think one thing they bring is experience. Both Weatherford and Watts on the offensive side and George on the defensive side, those are guys who are returning starters,” said Rhoades, who guided Cameron Yoe to successive state titles from 2012-14 before taking the G-P job in March.
“So they’ve been in the fire before. The other thing is leadership. I think that they bring a tremendous amount of leadership.”
More than executing a trap block or recording a pancake that looks good on the statistical sheet, Villela sees his role on the team as being just that.
“A leader,” Villela said, “a person that can be counted on by the coaches and my partners.”
There is a trick to it, however. Anyone can be a holler guy or get in someone’s face to wildly point out a flaw or shortcoming.
“You have to always bring positive peer pressure. That’s what they preach about the most with this new coaching staff, always bring positive peer pressure,” said Weatherford, a 6-foot-1, 275-pounder who was an all-district, honorable-mention pick a year ago. “If there’s a mistake, something happens, you pick them right up and tell them to go get after it the next play. I want to lead the offensive linemen, I help them out with any questions they have and so on and so forth.”
It doesn’t hurt that Rhoades ranks Watts, a second-team all-district pick, and Weatherford as two of his best three players. Those two and Villela, an honorable-mention selection, are joined on the council by quarterback Dustin Atkinson, linebackers Sam Guzman and Diego Jimenez and multipurpose players Randell Harris and Brenden Teague.
The latter five play positions in which one traditionally might expect team leadership to emerge. That isn’t necessarily the case at G-P, however.
“Anybody can lead if they want to. You’ve got to be vocal, you have to be inspirational,” Weatherford said. “You want these kids looking up at you and you have to be a good role model. You have to lift them up, you can’t put them down, make them feel lesser than you.”
Rhoades agreed that the G-P leadership has to come from all walks of the roster, perhaps more so with those in the trenches.
“I think if they really understand the game, which you would hope that your players do, they’re going to realize that you’ve got to be good up front in order to be successful,” Rhoades said. “We’ve got eight guys on our leadership council and three of them are linemen. Another one is an inside linebacker. I think they understand that you’ve got to have that.”
With a new program being implemented, with new schemes and new philosophies, it is imperative that a team gets the support from the veteran player. Even with the possibility of several underclassmen landing starting roles, senior leadership is essential.
“As far as coming in, I think sometimes the big thing that you worry about coming in is are your seniors going to buy into what you’re doing,” Rhoades said. “If they do and compete, then you’re going to have a lot of seniors starting for you. If they don’t, then they end up getting out of the program or getting beat out by younger guys. Here, the seniors have been great. They’ve really bought into what we’re doing and have been great leaders for the other kids.”
The Miller defensive line will not necessarily be one of the biggest in District 30-5A this season, but it could be among the fastest. That is what the Buccaneers’ first line of defense will work to use to its advantage as it ventures into the new district.
With a four-man defensive front that averages just more than 6-foot-1 and 240 pounds, the speed of those players could mean the difference between the Bucs’ defense getting off the field or playing for extended period of times.
“We are a little small going up against other offensive lines but that’s where our speed comes in,” said senior defensive end Jesse Aguilar. “We want to use it against them, and if we use our speed and power that we have I think we will be all right.”
Aguilar is one of two players on the line that returns with significant experience from last season’s 1-9 campaign, and is the smallest at 6-0, 215. The biggest is 6-3, 265-pound junior Nick Rodriguez, who said he uses his leverage as well as his speed to work his way past offensive linemen.
Miller coach Remy Rodriguez said their physical attributes are important but the two also are on a line with two relative newcomers, and Aguilar’s and Nick Rodriguez’s experience could prove crucial to success.
“We played a lot of young pups on that defensive side of the ball last year,” Remy Rodriguez said. “And all these guys know what it takes to play on Friday nights. They work very well together to learn the defensive calls and their systems and responsibilities … (that experience) is huge. Now they are relating that to everybody else.”
Nick Rodriguez said he started his career at Miller as a defensive end but as he grew was moved to the interior of the defensive line. Aguilar is a two-year starter at his defensive end position and will be joined on the line by 6-1, 225-pound senior Shawn Fushi and Josh Romo, a 6-1, 255-pound junior.
“When we play teams that throw the ball a lot, I don’t think an offensive tackle is going to stop me,” Aguilar said. “I’m going to get to the quarterback pretty fast.”
What could help the players this season will be Rodriguez and the coaching staff’s decision to keep players on one side of the ball. There will be a small number of skill players that get time on offense and defense, but Rodriguez said the defensive line will play those positions this season.
It is a move Rodriguez said he hopes will pay dividends when zone play starts later in the year.
“It keeps them fresh and we can make adjustments on the sideline,” Rodriguez said. “That’s a great advantage for us to have our coaches on the sideline talking to them and making adjustments on the sideline.”
If anyone exemplifies what football coach Craig Charlton is trying to accomplish at Ray it is defensive tackle Max Hamilton.
Mere months ago, the 5-foot-7 senior checked in at a robust 290 pounds, quite a load for a short frame. Now, on the eve of perhaps his final go-round as a football player, Hamilton, is a trimmed 245 pounds.
“I haven’t lost any strength, though,” Hamilton said. “(Defensive line) coach (Michael) Wendell’s on us about that. He’s a very good weight-lifting coach as well as an offensive coach.”
It isn’t just pumping iron, however. It is a mindset that incorporates the latest training techniques in order to get the Texans ready to rebound from a 2-8 season.
“A lot of our workouts now, we just don’t go lift. We’re into hard core, Crossfit-type stuff, with heavy ropes and agility-type stuff,” Charlton said. “That’s the future because you have to use the cardiovascular stuff as well as the strength.”
One of two returning starters on the defensive line, Hamilton took the revamped training style to heart.
“Yes, sir, I have, especially this summer,” Hamilton said, adding that because this could be his final year of playing organized ball spurred was among the factors that spurred him.
“Because you never know who’s looking at you, or if anybody’s looking at you at all,” Hamilton said. “Not only that but, I don’t want to say I had shortcomings, but I had problems with conditioning in the past. I wasn’t the most well-conditioned my sophomore and junior years, and that definitely played a role later in games.”
Hamilton, along with teammates Jake Ancira, Jesse Clark, John Delacruz, Steven Flores, Rogelio Granados, Ethan Guerra, Justin Licon, Robert Martinez, Jon Olmos, Mat Peña, Tyler Ryan, Lorenzo Stover and Eduardo Tovar, took part in the state Linemen Challenge in June in Abilene. The Texans finished eighth after a second-place regional finish to earn the trip to state. Ray recorded the best time in the Tire Flip contest, turning 20 tires in 52 seconds.
“We started getting these kids flipping tires and doing things like that and pushing sleds in our offseason program,” Charlton said. “Well, that carried us to state in the Linemen Challenge. So our linemen now are a lot stronger but they’re also faster.”
Between the running, cross-training, lifting and tire-flipping, Hamilton hopes to not re-live his conditioning problems of the past.
“The fourth quarter, it’s tough, especially if the guy across from you is more conditioned than you,” Hamilton said. “It definitely plays a big role.”
Charlton hopes the experience lasts longer than a quarter.
“When it all comes down it that’s what counts, winning football games,” Charlton said. “But the other thing we’re trying to do with all this offseason stuff, we’re trying to teach kids that hopefully all this hard work isn’t necessarily just for a football season but of a lifestyle change, where they’re working hard to reach goals that they have set for themselves for 10 years down the road.
“But we would like to win some football games. It would at least stop a lot of the gray hair I’m developing lately,” Charlton said.
Tuloso-Midway senior guard Jacob Rodriguez has been impressing coaches with his blocking skills since his freshman year. Not just his own, either.
Warriors coach Brian Boone said an opposing district coach once even showed video of Rodriguez when he was a freshman to his team’s upperclassmen to teach them the proper way to execute a kick-out block.
Rodriguez, a three-time second-team all-district offensive lineman, continues to lead the way for T-M’s run-heavy offense, as the Warriors look to rebound from consecutive 2-8 seasons.
“He’s like the bell cow — he’s the one everybody follows,” Boone said of the 5-foot-9, 275-pound Rodriguez. “He’s very valuable to our program on a lot of levels. He’s the ideal athlete. If you had 15 or 20 Jacobs, you’d be beating a whole lot of people.”
Rodriguez is so versatile that he even excels blocking downfield after pulling on certain running plays.
“He’s a load,” Boone said. “Some of those smaller defensive players had better get out of the way or he’ll run them over.”
“I do my best to get down the field and help out my backs so that they can follow me to the end zone,” said the 17-year-old Rodriguez, who has been playing football since he was 8 years old. “I run down the field, make plays, take care of business and do what I do as a football player. That’s how you’ll see me do my trash talking on the field.”
That doesn’t mean Rodriguez doesn’t speak his mind to his teammates when he feels he needs to, however.
Warriors junior offensive tackle/defensive end Esteban Ruiz said Rodriguez is the emotional leader of the team and sets the ultimate standard for T-M’s other linemen to aspire.
“He walks onto the field and off it with the same mentality every day — he’s ready to work,” Ruiz said. “He’s always pushing us to do better. He plays on both sides of the ball. I work with him every day just to get better. I want to be where he’s at. He makes everybody better.”
Rodriguez started playing defense tackle after his sophomore season, and Boone said Rodriguez has also been an impact player on T-M’s defensive line.
“He’ll definitely hold the gap — he’s very strong,” Boone said. “You’re not going to run over Jacob.”
Or outsmart him. Ruiz said Rodriguez even knows Ruiz’s position — concerning blocking assignments on offensive plays — better than he does.
Fittingly, Rodriguez is eventually interested in becoming a coach and wants to play football beyond high school.
“As long as I can continue to be a great football player and leave my mark on the field, I know some college is going to recognize that and that’s why I keep moving forward,” Rodriguez said. “I’m looking to play at the next level. That’s something that I’ve set as a goal since my freshman year. I want to continue to put my helmet and pads on and not stop doing what I’ve been doing.”
Rodriguez still has one more season to increase his college recruiting stock and also help the Warriors turn things around.
“Going 2-8 again left a super bad taste in our mouths and that has lit the fire for us to be a lot better than we were last season,” Rodriguez said. “We’re very underestimated. We feel we can do something (special) this season and I feel very confident that we will.”
Seniors Sammy Vargas and Brian Sanchez knew Carroll’s offense.
The strategy worked for them as the Tigers finished 7-3 last year and won the District 28-6A title.
But that’s going to change with new coach Jerry Long and the new District 30-5A, where Carroll will play in the South Zone.
“It’s different but we have to adjust and learn quickly the new offense,” said Vargas, a strong tackle in the Slot-T alignment. “If we just listen to our coaches and do what they tell us week in, week out, we’ll do fine.”
Long coached 11 years at Class 3A East Bernard and cultivated a program that won six district championships, made nine playoff appearances (including two state semifinal games) and won a state championship in 2012.
And he has plans for the Tigers.
“We’re coming in and changing the whole mentality offensively. It’s a totally different offense from what they’ve run,” Long said. “(With the Slot-T), it’s more of a gap and drive block. It’s more physical, and it’s driving people off the ball.”
With as many as seven starters returning on defense, that side of the ball is more set, Long said. Carroll will continue with its 4-2-5 defense and has experienced players ready to pick up where they left off last year.
But the offense was a little bit of a puzzle during August workouts.
“Offensively, it will be a revolving door until we figure out that we have the guy in the right place,” Long said. “We’re having to change their whole mind set of what they’ve done and been taught for several years. It’s a process.”
Sanchez, a senior center, said learning the pace of the Slot-T has been an adjustment, but it is important to learn quickly and encourage the younger players to do the same.
“We have to teach them to keep at our pace and work hard every rep we take out here at practice, and hopefully that will transition over to the main field on Friday nights,” Sanchez said.
Until permanent positions are decided, it’s likely defensive players such as seniors Darian Thomas and Darvin Davis will play both sides of the ball. Long said it’s uncommon in a 5A program, but he’s confident their experience will shine through.
“My approach has been either we can sit and pout about that or we can take it as a challenge,” Long said. “Maybe we don’t have as big of numbers as we normally would, but I told the kids that if they’re tough, and they’re going to be here, then they will be successful.”
Isaiah Caraway knows he’ll be helping to break in some new faces to the Flour Bluff offensive line this fall.
Opposite of one of the Hornets’ biggest linemen is Tyler Obrien, an all-district defensive tackle that shares the confidence of his entire defensive unit with eight returning starters.
“Defensively we played a lot better as the year went on,” third-year Flour Bluff coach Chris Steinbruck said. “We were young defensively to start the year, but we held Calallen to 14, Alice to 21 and we shut out T-M. Now we have most of those guys coming back.”
Flour Bluff went 6-4 and missed the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade.
Obrien returns up front with defensive end Michael Elizalde, linebackers Brock Elam and Blake Sherron and the entire defensive backfield.
“I always feel great about my defense,” Obrien said. “Yeah, we were young last year, and we weren’t ready and got smacked in the mouth. We helped each other out, grew up and learned from those mistakes. We have pulled together as one unit and our defense is going to be elite.”
The Hornets may be forced to rely on that side of the ball as the offense folds eight new starters and a new quarterback (converted tight end Jaeger Bull) into the mix with a challenging early slate on tap — with Class 6A Cedar Park Vista Ridge and Victoria East in the first two games.
“Brock is leading the defense this year,” Bull said. “They have an elite squad. They are veterans. We are real young on the offensive side of things but throughout spring ball we’ve made leaps and bounds and we are getting to where we are supposed to be.”
Obrien called the Hornets defense the “catalyst” for the team and said they will be ready to make an impact in Week 1. The senior said the experience of playing together for years will help the defensive line.
“A lot of us have played together since we were in junior high,” Obrien said. “We have so much team chemistry that our defensive line is going to be one unit and immovable.”
Offensively Caraway will help the transition to three new starters up front.
“Half of our O-Line is juniors and we only have two returning starters, but I feel like we are pretty good on what we are going to do,” Caraway said. “They picked up on it fast.
“We’ve been showing those guys what to do, what not to do and how fast the game is going to be. Having only played JV they don’t really know.”
The Hornets are expecting to run the ball more with their offensive personnel this season and went into the summer excited with 350 yards rushing in the spring game.
Caraway is excited about the prospect of an increased reliance on the run.
“That means more pancakes,” Caraway said with a smile. “I can put more D-linemen on their backs. That is always a good thing.”
Senior Richard Vargas joins Caraway as the two experienced seniors up front and said the returnees on both sides of the ball have a “chip on their shoulder” after the Hornets missed the playoffs last year for the first time in 11 seasons.
“It made everyone drive harder to come back and get ready for next season,” Vargas said. “We had to show everybody that we can still do it. We have a little bit of a chip on our shoulder.”
With the construct of the new 11-team District 30-5A, three schools dropped in classification from Class 6A into Class 5A.
After a successful 2015 and a large group of returning linemen, one of those teams, the King Mustangs and coach Eddie Hesseltine are excited about their chances to not only compete in the South Zone, but for a district title in 2016.
For the Mustangs, in addition to a speedy group of skill players, the promise of a new season starts up front with names such as Dominic Reyes-Lopez, Bobby Gonzalez, tight end Joey Serna and two-way lineman Albert Villarreal.
Villarreal will be joined on the defensive front with experienced space eaters Tyler Stevenson and Pablo Martinez.
“That is where we are going to have the most depth — on our defensive line,” Hesseltine said. “We have some big boys and we are going to play a lot of kids. We are going to run a lot of people in. We may have a big boy group on short yardage or a real fast group on the next down.”
Hesseltine said he couldn’t say what 11 defenders will be on the field at any given time because of the depth and different units and packages that defensive coordinator Lamont Mayberry is employing during practice.
Stevenson is a junior that started all 11 games as a sophomore and Hesseltine called nose guard Martinez “the strongest kid in our program.”
“We are a team that is working really hard to go far this year,” the 6-foot-1, 290-pound Martinez said. “We are all about business here. We don’t play around.
“A lot of guys are stepping up and we are coming together. We are working even harder than we were last year. We want to go far and prove to people that we can do it.”
Villarreal (5-11, 270) knows the new district will be competitive, but that King has bonded over the offseason and is ready for the challenge — especially up front.
“The lines are the heart and soul of a team,” Villarreal said. “Without your offensive line and your defensive line, you can’t get it done and have success. It always starts with the line and starts in the trenches.”
Behind King’s veteran offensive front, the Mustangs will break in a new quarterback in Elijah Flowers, but new offensive coordinator Andy Smith and Hesseltine are excited about the leadership the junior has already displayed.
Hessletine added Flowers has been a winner at quarterback at every level he has played, including leading the freshman team to a district title two seasons ago.
Flowers will be flanked by returning running back Adrian Walker and jack-of-all-trades Indigo Jackson, who will line up everywhere on the field as he readies for his fourth year on King’s varsity.
Martinez credited some of the team’s camaraderie with how they are dealing with the loss of Chris Gregoire, who died after disappearing under water in a lake and would have been a senior defensive back for the Mustangs this season.
“It is extra motivation,” Martinez said. “Chris was a hard worker and we remind each other when we want to give up: ‘What would Chris do?’ He would push even harder. Remembering him helps us to push to the limit and even past it. It is a good feeling.”
The Moody Trojans expect to see improvement on the football field this fall.
And that is despite having one senior starting offensive lineman.
The combination of experience and a strong offseason program, has left coach Mike Cantu with a reason for optimism.
That and the decision to split the state’s largest district — the massive 11-team 30-5A — into zones.
Moody will be in the challenging South Zone with Flour Bluff, King, Carroll and Veterans Memorial, but has five games to break in its newcomers.
Like several of his teammates up front, senior Amando Guerra will probably see time on both sides of the ball — at right guard and defensive end.
“We are working on keeping up the intensity,” Guerra said. “Our goal is to make the playoffs. We really want to have a winning season.
“We feel like we have something to prove. We have a chip on our shoulder.”
The Trojans fought through a difficult one-win season in 2015, including a winless district slate, and everyone — coaches and players alike — is pointing to the great offseason the program had as a reason to expect improvement.
“Everyone is taking it more seriously this year than in previous years,” the 5-foot-11, 215-pound Guerra said. “The offseason was really good.”
Cantu is counting on the offensive line to be the best unit on the team and said the team will likely pass less and adapt to use more Slot-T and Wing-T formations this season.
“I like our offensive line,” Cantu said. “We have kids that will play both ways on occasion. Our offensive line is young — we will only have one senior out there — but he will be leading the group. Everyone else has that understanding and enthusiasm of what we are trying to do. I like the way things are going.”
Junior Jacob Nunez, a likely two-way starter at center and defensive tackle, will join Guerra in paving the way for returning all-district running back J.J. Kelley (224-867, 6 TDs).
Nunez said it has been all about the team since the start of the offseason, a sharp contrast to previous seasons.
“Everybody is in it to win it,” Nunez said. “There are no individuals this year; everyone is in for the team. We are a lot more team-bonded and we are ready to go. The first few days of practice were really great — the best I’ve ever seen. The intensity has been up at a high level. We are going to do some big things.”
“You are going to see a different mentality from the kids,” Cantu said. “They’ve adapted to what we want to do. The work they’ve put in will show on the football field.”
Veterans Memorial coach Cody Simper listed four core principles at the Eagles’ first team meeting as a varsity squad.
First: Respect. “We expect to receive it, but expect us to give it to you,” Simper told the group of mostly underclassmen. “Treat your teammates with respect.”
Next: Commitment and discipline. “When we tell you to be here at 6, come at 5:50,” he said. “If you’re going to be good at something, you have to be willing to outwork the competition.”
Finally: Work ethic. “Out-prepare them. It’s not about being bigger and faster,” he said. “You’re not going to back down from anybody starting with your coaches’ expectations.”
The Eagles have fewer than 10 seniors and a number of experienced underclassmen. Simper refuses to let this year be “transitional.”
“We feel really good about where we are right now. We’re going to get one less week of practice than most of the area teams because we did spring football, but we feel like spring football really prepared us to come into fall camp,” he said. “(The team has) retained a lot of information from the spring, and we feel like we know where our kids are fitting in personnel-wise.”
Junior Clinton Middleton has been one player who has fit in. The offensive lineman originally was not happy about transferring to Veterans Memorial, but is now ready to be a part of the first Eagles team.
Going up against a few varsity teams last season while on the Eagles’ junior varsity squad was a wake-up call, he said.
“I saw the difference in level a lot and it was a pretty big gap,” Middleton said. “I’m hoping to bridge that gap this year.”
Simper called Middleton a “player to watch” because of his natural leadership.
“(His leadership) is crucial to us. That’s a guy that never misses a workout and is here every opportunity he gets,” Simper said. “He’s just one of those kids that’s always going to find a way to do what he’s supposed to be doing. He never looks for a way out.”
Simper plans to run a Spread, no-huddle offense and continues to look for players to fill those integral spots. He said the offensive line is one of their strengths.
“We’re deep there. We have about seven, eight guys we feel we can rotate in that can all fill in a role,” he said.
A 4-2-5 defense is planned, but everything could be adjusted depending on the practices going forward. Simper said players are still being moved around on defense, but is thankful for their versatility.
Junior J.P. Newman said the other teams in 30-5A underestimate the new team.
“We’ll do a lot better than most first-year teams,” said Newman, who is an outside receiver. “This year, we need to focus better, which was one of our weaknesses from last year.
“We’re going to take it week-by-week. Our mentality is kind of being cliché, because you see it everywhere right now. But we’re focusing on a 1-0 mentality. Every week, we’re trying to win that game.”
BEEVILLE — It is a moment that has been building for five years for Aaron Puga as 60 fans sat in the Veterans Memorial Stadium stands watching him practice at a late evening practice.
It’s also a moment that was never even a blip on the radar of his Trojans teammate, fellow senior Demontario (Mane) Anderson.
Anderson, a Mississippi native, had never played football before putting on Beeville’s burnt orange and white and heading into the defensive secondary last season, but came out of it with first-team all-district and second-team all-state accolades.
“I was only a basketball player,” said Anderson, who is listed at 6-foot-4, 195 pounds. “My coach believed in me. He gave me another mind and I became a beast.”
As new to football as Anderson is, he already has more experience on the Trojans sideline than his coaches. Coach Jerry Bomar comes from Orange Grove, defensive tackle coach Zane Brown is a former All-American at Texas A&M-Kingsville, while defensive coordinator J.R. Castellano and defensive end coach Pat Flores were a half-hour away at Sinton.
Fortunately for them, both Anderson and Puga use several of the same words to describe themselves — including “school first,” “100 percent” and “coachable.” That came in handy when the new defensive coordinator took the second-team all-state safety and put him on the line.
“Mane can obviously run. He’s long, he’s got long arms. He fits that defensive end position to a tee,” said Castellano, who brought the 4-2-5 TCU-style defense with him from Sinton. “It’s something different to him, so he’s having to adjust to it, but he bought into it for the last two weeks and I think he’s going to be pretty special there.”
The 5-10, 220-pound Puga, a lifelong resident of Beeville, has been on varsity since his sophomore year and is also a member of the school’s powerlifting team.
“I show up every morning, every afternoon after school, working out, putting in the time,” Puga said. “That’s what it is, dedication. You’ve got to stay focused no matter what you do, on your job and your job only.”
Both players will be integral to any success Beeville has against a tough 15-4A Division I that now includes Somerset, which went 7-0 in District 29-5A in 2015.
“With the spread offenses today trying to spread you out, you try to be as athletic as you can on the defensive front,” Castellano said. “So part of our strategy is to try to break some of that athleticism.”
Anderson agreed to the move after Castellano asked him a question.
“ ‘Compare yourself to an offensive tackle. Are you more athletic than an offensive tackle?’ “ Castellano said. “His answer was yes. And it’s always going to be yes. He’s a ‘yes, sir,’ ‘no sir’ guy. He’s a great kid, an outstanding young man. He’s got a bright future ahead of him.”
The same question gets asked of Puga, and the same answer is given.
“You can see how he’s built,” Castellano said. “He’s a combination of power and speed. The style of defense we play, an attack style of defense trying to push the ball lateral all the time, he fits that.”
Anderson said his two dreams are a state ring — “the only gold I want” — and to play Division I football. He has already been offered a scholarship to Texas Southern, which recently contacted him about playing basketball as well.
Puga echoed Anderson’s desire for a ring, but says he is still deciding between playing football collegiately or heading to college for nursing.
“I’m a big competitor,” Puga said. “No matter what it is — I’m playing tic-tac-toe, I’m playing Xbox — I love competing, on the field and off the field. And that’s what (football) is. It’s a competitive game, it’s an emotional game. I cry, I get excited — it’s just one thing I love in life.”
BREAKING DOWN CLASS 4A
15-4A Division I
Favorites: Somerset, La Vernia, Beeville
What to expect in 2016: The question here is how much damage Somerset will do after winning its district in Class 5A?The Bulldogs look to dethrone La Vernia, which went undefeated through its five-game district schedule last season by an average score of 44-9. Beeville has high hopes as Jerry Bomar comes to the school after a successful run at Orange Grove.
16-4A Division I
Favorites: La Feria, Kingsville
What to expect in 2016: Last year there were 20 district games without an upset — La Feria won every game, Hidalgo lost every game, and the three teams between them filled in accordingly. The Lions are hoping to repeat as district champs and Kingsville is looking to unseat them, which could mean a similar race to the bi-district round.
15-4A Division II
Favorites: Cuero, Sinton, Wharton
What to expect in 2016: Last season made for an all-15-4A D-II Region IV final, with Cuero blanking Sinton, 28-0, and denying the Pirates of a trip to the state semifinals. The injury-plagued Gobblers were a lackluster 5-5 headed into the playoffs, with one of the losses coming in the first game to Wharton — which joins the district along with fellow District 12 transplant Sweeny. That should make for what amounts to a three-way horse race for the title.
16-4A Division II
Favorites: Orange Grove, Rio Hondo
What to expect in 2016: District 16 has the current misfortune of being paired with District 15 for bi-district playoffs, and last year went 1-3 in the first round. Only district champ Orange Grove made it to the area round, before falling to Wimberley. The Bulldogs are riding an unprecedented streak of district titles, but this year are without the coach and quarterback who got them there. Still, Orange Grove should blossom again with new coach Scotty Pugh, having built a strong tradition over several years.
Lost in the shuffle of Odem’s explosive offense are the players who will block for the Owls’ all-state quarterback Michael Everett.
Odem coach A.J. Martinez understands the importance of those guys up front, however, who are the secret to the Owls’ success.
“We throw the ball so much, it puts a lot of pressure on our linemen and we put a lot of emphasis on them,” Martinez said. “They do a great job in our system. For them to protect Everett and give him time is crucial to what we do.”
Odem senior center Estevan Esqueda — a three-year letterman — and senior guard Fernando Gomez are not only returning first-team all-district selections, but also the Owls’ two returning starters on the offensive line this season.
“We’re going to have to rely on those guys a whole bunch,” Martinez said. “Both played all 13 games last season. They’re smart and very bright.”
The Owls must replace three starting offensive linemen from last season’s 12-1 Region IV-3A Division II semifinalist team.
“The playoff loss to Boling last season has us angry,” Gomez said. “We want to go back, get revenge and go farther in the playoffs. We want that regional and state date.”
Martinez said junior tackles Jacob Garcia and Jonathan Garcia (who are also brothers), junior tackle Luis Garcia, junior guard Adrian Morin, junior guard Simon Vargas and sophomore tackle Gilbert Cruz are competing for those starting spots.
While it may take some time for this group to gel, Martinez said he likes what he sees from his offensive linemen.
“They have the potential to be as good, if not better than what we’ve been in the past and that’s what we want,” Martinez said. “We need some game time to see if that’s going to happen.”
Martinez said his offensive linemen also have a chip on their shoulders coming into the season, which gives them added motivation to have success on the field.
“We’re really determined,” Esqueda said. “We are working so hard and we’re confident this year that we can go far (again in the playoffs).”
BREAKING DOWN CLASS 3A
15-3A Division I
Favorites: Mathis, George West
What to expect in 2016: Class 3A Division I state semifinalist Mathis must replace all but five starters on both sides of the ball if it is going to enjoy similar success this season. George West not only returns eight defensive starters but also 2015 second-team all-district senior quarterback Hunter Brown. Goliad could also be among the district title contenders this season, and Taft cannot be overlooked in coach J.J. Suarez’s first season. The Greyhounds, though, will have to replace their starting quarterback.
16-3A Division I
Favorites: Santa Gertrudis Academy, San Diego
What to expect in 2016: The Lions could be in store for their program’s first district championship season with their experienced and talented offensive line leading the way. The Vaqueros will lean on their veteran defense to attempt to win their second district title in three seasons. First-year coach Larry Vincent’s Falfurrias squad returns all but two offensive starters from last year’s playoff team, and Bishop will look to rebound but will have to replace a combined seven starters on both sides of the ball.
16-3A Division II
Favorites: Odem, Hebbronville
What to expect in 2016: Led by Class 3A first-team all-state quarterback Michael Everett, the Owls may have to outscore their opponents as they only have two defensive starters back from last year’s regional semifinalist team. The Longhorns, who also won their district last season, will lean heavily on eight returning offensive starters this season. London, another team that won its district last season in Class 2A, has to overcome the loss of 17 starters from last year’s playoff team. Banquete, another playoff team, and Skidmore-Tynan each have at least seven starters back on both sides of the ball.
Refugio senior nose guard Trace Mascorro is as quick as he is strong. That has proven to be an overwhelming combination for opponents trying to deny the 6-foot-1, 270 pound Mascorro from getting to their ballcarrier.
A four-year starter, Mascorro, is coming off dominant junior season in which he made 180 tackles and had six sacks en route to a first-team slot as a lineman on the Class 2A all-state team.
“I’m stronger than most people and I’m faster than most linemen,” said Mascorro, who has been playing his position since he was 5 years old. “I get off the ball pretty well and I have the experience.”
Refugio coach Jason Herring calls Mascorro, a two-way starter who also plays offensive guard, “every coach’s dream” because he does so many things well.
“He’s a once-in-a-lifetime athlete,” Herring said. “He can run. He’s real agile and he squats 650 pounds. He’s strong and athletic. He has also got a motor. He doesn’t need a lot of rest. He leads by example.”
Mascorro is even used to taking on more than one blocker on plays, which frees a teammate to make the tackle.
“His strength is stopping the run,” Herring said. “He demands a double team and sometimes even a triple team. He’s a special defensive lineman. He has got the size and he’s all muscle. He’s even a state qualifier in the discus in track and field and plays baseball — he does it all.”
While it may be difficult for him to duplicate last season’s stats total, Herring expects similar results from Mascorro this season.
“He’s hungry,” Herring said. “He’s bigger, faster and stronger (than in the past). We expect him to dominate the middle and the defensive front. He’s a difference maker for us.”
Mascorro said he isn’t concerned about repeating last season’s gaudy tackling numbers.
“I don’t really feel any pressure — I just go out and play football,” Mascorro said. “I’m very confident in my abilities and my goal is to be as good as I can possibly be. My dream is to play at the next level.”
Mascorro was recruited by the Air Force Academy, UTEP and Stephen F. Austin, and has committed to the Miners.
Mascorro’s more immediate focus is helping the preseason top-ranked Bobcats win the Class 2A Division I state title.
“The seniors went to state twice already and we lost, so we have a strong drive to get it done this year,” Mascorro said. “We have to win it this season.”
BREAKING DOWN CLASS 2A
15-2A Division I
What to expect in 2016: The Bobcats, who were No. 1 in Class 2A during the preseason, are the team to beat, as they have seven returning starters on both sides of the ball. Expect more of the same dominance from new-look Refugio, which is switching starting quarterbacks (by design) and changing its offense. Expect defending District 15-2A Division I champion Shiner, which fell to Refugio in the playoffs last season, to finish second.
16-2A DIVISION I
Favorites: Freer, Three Rivers
What to expect in 2016: Considering the Buckaroos have to replace a combined three starters on both sides of the ball from last year’s playoff team, this definitely could be the year Freer ends its 14-year district championship drought. The Buckaroos will look to do so this season with returning all-district senior RB Librado Carrillo moving to quarterback. Three Rivers is always a threat after winning its district two seasons ago and the Bulldogs have three returning running backs and a quarterback that received all-district accolades. Despite missing the playoffs last season, Ben Bolt will look to make it into the postseason behind the strength of its seven returning offensive starters.
16-2A Division II
Favorites: Bruni, Woodsboro.
What to expect in 2016: The Oct. 28 showdown between the Badgers and Eagles in Bruni likely will be for the district title. Defending 16-2A Division II champion Bruni and Woodsboro both lost to eventual state champion Bremond in the playoffs. The Eagles have nine starters back on both sides of the ball, including senior QB Jaden Wren, a first-team all-district pick, and junior RB Ti Beall. Agua Dulce and Benavides will also look to return to the playoffs, as both teams have at least seven returning starters on both sides of the ball.
Michael Everett, sr., Odem
One of the area’s top quarterbacks returns after a stellar 2015 campaign in which he earned all-state honors and threw for 2,875 yards and 36 touchdowns.
A.J. Brown, so. Calallen
The sophomore burst onto the season about a third of the way through the season for the Wildcats, rushing for nearly 1,000 yards.
Karl Gibson II, sr., Mathis
Gibson was the other punch in the Pirates’ rushing attack along with Oscar Flores. Gibson surpassed the 1,000-yard mark and could have bigger numbers this season.
Adrian Walker, sr., King
Mustangs coach Eddie Hesseltine is expecting a breakout season for the senior after he split time with 1,400-yard rusher Hasain Newsome.
Indigo Jackson, sr., King
Jackson will do just about everything for King this season after garnering 478 yards receiving and seven TDs last season. He also returned three kickoffs and punts for touchdowns.
Waydale Jones, sr., Beeville
The versatile receiver had 61 catches for 913 yards with 10 touchdowns for the Trojans, and could flourish in Jerry Bomar’s pass-heavy offense.
Ryan Everett, sr., Calallen
Everett is one of two key returners for the Wildcats and is a second-team all-district pick in 2015.
Jacob Rodriguez, sr., Tuloso-Midway
A three-year starter for the Cherokees, Rodriguez will anchor a line that wants to crack the top three in 30-5A’s North Zone.
Seth Watts, sr., GP
A second-team all-district selection in 2015, Watts had 11 pancake blocks and 13 knockdowns in G-P’s run-heavy offense.
Galen Gallagher, jr., Orange Grove
One of the area’s biggest linemen, Gallagher will be a key cog in coach Scotty Pugh’s transition in leading the Bulldogs.
Darren Encinia, jr., Mathis
Encinia is one of the top linemen on a team that likes to run the ball and could pave the way to another 2,000-yard rusher.
Gaige Lamb, sr., Calallen
Lamb returns to lead the Wildcats’ diverse offense after combining for more than 2,000 yards rushing and passing in 2015.
Trace Mascorro, sr., Refugio
The UTEP commit is back again after a stellar season for the Bobcats. Mascorro garnered more than 100 tackles from his spot on the line last season.
Justice Escobar, sr., Calallen
The returning lineman will help lead a Wildcats’ defense after recording 49 tackles and six sacks last season.
Ethan Owens, sr., Sinton
Owens is a two-way starter that will do plenty this season. Owens rushed for 517 yards and had 468 yards receiving, along with recording three sacks on defense.
Darvin Davis, sr., Carroll
Davis is one of eight returning starters on defense for the Tigers and recorded 60 tackles last season. He will also see some time at running back in the new run-heavy offense.
Kobie Herring, sr., Refugio
Herring was a tackle machine in 2015, with more than 150 tackles in 16 games and there is no reason to believe he will not do the same thing again in 2016.
Brock Elam, sr., Flour Bluff
Elam battled injuries in 2015 but is healthy and ready to lead the Hornets’ defense.
Drake Hargrove, sr., R-F
Hargrove totaled 90 tackles for the Pirates last season, including 11 for losses playing in nine regular-season games.
John Gaddis, SR., Calallen
Gaddis is an all-around athlete that will play on both sides of the ball, and is a key part of an experienced Calallen secondary.
Jordan Stone, sr., Carroll
Stone led the Tigers in interceptions the last two years, and is another experienced player on a defense that may have to carry the load early in the season.
Deaundre Fisher, sr., Ray
Fisher is the Texans’ top returning tacker with 51 and also had an interception, and will see some time at running back this season.
Andrew Amaro, sr. Odem
The two-way star for the Owls will likely be Michael Everett’s top target on offense and is one of two returning starters on their defense.
Anthony Villarreal, jr., Sinton
Villarreal had 119 tackles last season and was part of a stout Sinton defense. That defense will be tested this season in its new district.