May 26, 2021
By Greg Selber
Like a lot of folks, Rene Guzman is not really a morning person, but in a return to his alma mater, the new EHS head coach is ready and willing to make adjustments. For his first spring football go-around, the long-time Weslaco East defensive coordinator has the kids on the field at (gulp) 6:15 a.m. daily, even as the ubiquitous crowing cocks adjacent to the practice field are just warming to their eternal task. Traditionally, many programs work in the afternoon during the spring.
“It has been tough for us all, but I think it’s a good choice, for many reasons,” said Guzman, former EHS strong safety and member of the Class of 1988. “Because of COVID, everyone has their sleep patterns all messed up. But by having practice so early – and the athletic period for fall is set to be in first period – we’re trying to get the guys back into a normal routine. We have to gradually get back into the flow of things, it’s hopefully a sign of things to come. And so far, the kids have really responded.”
“The Earlier the Better” is the mantra then, as Guzman seeks to settle back into his old stomping grounds and get the Bobcats ready for what he thinks will be a triumphant new era. He took over the helm of the program in March, replacing ex-teammate J.J. Leija – now the DC at Vela – and has quickly set about stamping his mark on the product.
“Right now, we’re in evaluation mode, as a staff,” he explained. “We want to get to know all the players, see what they can do, and see what kind of shape they are in to play football. We have so many guys, mainly the youngsters, who didn’t get to participate last season because of COVID, so having spring was particularly important. There are a lot of sophomores without playing experience, and we wanted them to get out there and start that process. Some guys are not in football shape yet, so we have been easing into it the first couple of weeks.”
The program Guzman inherits enjoyed a credible season in 2020, going 3-2 and earning a playoff spot before being disqualified due to an onfield incident in the finale win over P-SJ-A. The lion’s share of standouts from that squad has graduated.
“They had a heckuva team last year and there is stuff to work with, despite heavy graduation losses,” he said. “The bulk of our guys have showed up consistently, ready to work. We’ve had a great couple of weeks and we are really encouraging the guys to continue this momentum, and get their summer work in.”
Early returns indicate that EHS, with shifty QB Rolando Abrego back for his third season behind center, will have some good offensive weapons behind a line that welcomes back most of its starters from 2020, minus leading light Frank Coronado, a college signee who will walk the grad stage in coming weeks.
Guzman, as one might expect from a guy who has spent his coaching career at grind-it East, has firm ideas about offense and defense.
“With East we always believed that sometimes the best offense can be a good defense,” he noted. “We will have that mentality here, as far as maintaining possession as much as we can, keeping the ball. We’ll go spread, though, and shake things up from time to time.”
Guzman and offensive coordinator Jimmy Young, over from San Benito, have some fine running prospects, including senior-to-be Abraham Gonzalez (out for the spring with an injury) and jitterbug junior-to-be Noel Serna. Both showed flashes of excellence in 2020.
Though the defense was gutted by graduation, with linebacker Angel Sanchez and lineman Emmanuel Duron moving on, among others, Guzman and DC M.J. Garza (another ex Bobcat great) have prospects littered throughout the depth chart. Right now, look for LBs Jonathan Duran and Johnathan Maldonado and DB Ben Gonzalez to come up to scratch as unit leaders. Ryhan Gudion, a hard hitter last season in the secondary, moves into an inside linebacker spot, giving the new-look ‘Cats some seasoned kids who have ridden the rapids already.
When he rode the same rapids with the juggernaut Team of the 1980s as a player, Guzman earned enough memories to last a lifetime.
“It seems like it was just yesterday that I was here playing,” he smiled. “My last year, we made the playoffs and went in against Clark, out of San Antonio, back when we played upstate teams real quick in the playoffs. I have been running into all kinds of people from back in the day since I got back, it’s crazy, surreal.”
And that includes his former coach, Richard Flores.
“There was a man,” Guzman intoned, about his Hall of Fame mentor who led the ‘Cats to untold glories during the decade, including three consecutive three-deep postseason runs. “A legend, he was just ‘that guy’ and everyone looked up to him and followed him. I mean, they named the stadium after him, right? That to me says something about the impact he had on us all, the program.”
Now the pupil becomes the newest master, and Guzman will admit that it’s been a long time between stints with the Red and Blue.
“I guess I am an anomaly, because most coaches are on the move a lot, that’s just the way the game works,” he commented. “But I have been able to stay with the same program for more than 20 years, and I have the fondest memories of my time with East. All my children graduated from there and that was a big factor in my staying at East. Call me crazy, but I’m a family guy and as one by one, all my kids went to East, each one coming after was like, ‘I want to be at East.’ I had some shots, to take jobs somewhere else. But that program was good to me and my family.”
At first blush, EHS’s newest leader appears to be a well-spoken sort, thoughtful, the type who mixes in the usual football jargon with insight about other aspects of life beyond the X’s and O’s. And that extends to the joys of actually seeing kids face to face.
“With COVID there was always a lot of technology involved, many meetings took place that way, every school had to do it,” Guzman recalled. “It’s nice to get back to actually seeing people, being with them. The other way may have been a necessity, but it was very impersonal, and after awhile, that can get you down.”
Bottom line, Guzman is ready to take the shot of a lifetime, with the program he grew up in.
“Humbled and honored, man, for sure, to be back,” he said. “I went through the tradition here, and it feels great to be doing it again. The goal in the spring has always been to get back to normal slowly but surely, evaluate our kids and get ready to play. After a few weeks, I can say that we are starting to look like a football team. We’re going to be flexible, put kids in a position to be successful, and as coaches, we’re going to adjust to what we have and what they are best at. I couldn’t be happier with the way things are working out.”
So there you have it from Bobcat Land. A new coach to some, an old friend to others. And a guy who launches into the job with relish, memories, and new ideas. All of which unfold on a daily basis, at the crack of dawn, even before the alarm clock begins to rouse the rest of us lazy loafers from our slumber.