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THE MEN WHO CAME BEFORE: GUZMAN FOLLOWS IN HALLOWED BOBCAT FOOTSTEPS

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August 29, 2021

By Greg Selber

As Rene Guzman takes the spotlight as the 24th football coach in the history of Edinburg High, he does so for a program with more than 100 years of performance already in the history books. It’s a high-profile job in a football-crazy town, and Guzman should fit right in, as an alum of the school and a guy with plenty of experience on the headsets. Here is a look at some of the men who’ve led the charge in Red and Blue since 1920:

Some of the early coaches in EHS history have fascinating back stories. A couple manned the helm for one season in town, brief way stations on busy and productive career tracks. In 1930, Harvey Ballew went 2-6-1 with the Bobcats but one could give him some slack because earlier in the calendar year he’d been hitting a career-best .330 as a second baseman for the San Antonio Indians of the Texas League. In 1928, Ballew had begun his HS coaching career at Bastrop, the same year he started a successful minor league baseball stint of six seasons, culminating in a .308 average over 500 pro games, mainly with Galveston, Shreveport and San Antone.

Another one-hit wonder, Ralph Hodge, led the Bobcats in 1931 as Ballew’s replacement. Hodge was later to coach at Carrizo Springs. E.F. Caraway took the reins in 1932. Though he did not manage a win in his single season, tying once in nine trying tries, Caraway sported a tremendous resume. He’d been a three-year football starter at end for Purdue starting in 1927 and captained the Boilermaker baseball squad in 1930. Originally from Sherman – up near the border with Oklahoma and the home of Austin College – Caraway later was the head coach in both football and basketball at a college in Massachusetts in the late 1930s. Like Ballew, he’d also been a minor leaguer, slamming nine homers for Class C Shawnee of the Western Association in 1930.

Then there was Homer Morris, whose name people in McAllen will find familiar, after the junior high named in his honor. Morris was a four-year letterman in basketball at Sul Ross (1935-38) and his performance was fine enough to earn entry into that school’s Hall of Fame. Morris became a coach and educator in the Valley, leading EHS for two seasons, 1947 and 1948. He replaced one of the true legends of local annals, D.C. “Bobby” Cannon, a multi-sport star at UT in the late Teens who went on to take SA Brackenridge to the state finals twice before going 64-32-5 with EHS in the period from 1936 to 1946. Later a coach at Edinburg Junior College, one of the forerunners of today’s UTRGV, Cannon was eventually the first Valley coach at be elected to the THSCA Hall of Fame, in 1961.

To backtrack, after Morris’ brief run, Billy Cooper took over the Red and Blue football squad. He had started out at Munday, which is between Wichita Falls and Abilene, in 1938, and did four years with San Benito, taking the Greyhounds to the playoffs twice before coming to town in 1949. Cooper was 7-2-1 in his debut, dipped to a 3-17 showing the next two seasons but came good, to say the most, in 1953, following a decent 5-4-1 season in ’52 with the magical ride of 1953. Then, the Bobcats were 11-0-1, tying Edison in the state semis but losing on penetrations with a team graced by the star presence of Carlos Esquivel and Jimmy Wright, both of whom later played at Texas A&M for Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant. Cooper left the Valley after that, coaching at Aldine for eight years, at Houston Jeff Davis for four up to 1972, amassing 123 career wins in the process.

Some fellows who coached the ‘Cats had come from somewhere else, other went on down the road after they worked in town. Alfred Weir, the second mentor in school history (1923-1929), later toiled in the same role at McAllen High from 1931-33. George Webb, EHS leader from 1954-57, had been at Del Rio (1950-53) before replacing the departed Cooper, and still later would resurface as head cheese at Goliad (1958-62). Hal Griffin led the local charge in 1965-66 and then headed east to San Benito, where he marshaled the ‘Hound effort for four campaigns.

A few ex ‘Cat coaches are more well known as great assistants, such as Barry Copenhaver (head man in 1969) and Travis Cook (1958-60), while some made great fame either before or after their Edinburg stints. Earl Scott was a case of the latter variety, as he came to town in 1967 for a two-year swan song, this after time at Eagle Pass and Laredo brought him to Donna and his destiny. He passed away in 2020 at the age of 93, but Scott will always be recalled fondly for the Redskins’ 1961 state championship; that season he won state Coach of the Year honors. Scott followed Cannon into the state Hall of Fame in 1962 and maybe folks did not know or remember he coached the Bobcats for two seasons. But he did.

Closer to the modern era, alums have made their mark at the school, such as Esquivel (1970-74) and the beloved Robert Vela (1997-2006, the mighty run of 1999 when the ‘Cats became one of only 17 Valley teams to win their third-round playoff match). Vela and his brother Pete played for the classy Fred Akers in the early 1960s, before Akers embarked on a stellar college career that led to 108 wins at Wyoming, Texas, and Purdue. Like Scott, Akers died last year but his three seasons at EHS (1962-64) still ring well in the minds of those who were there. Another Bobcat ex who made the grade in his old stomping grounds was J.J. Leija, who rekindled the playoff fever on campus in his tenure; he’s now the DC at Vela.

Joey Caceres is still on the scene as a highly competent administrator with the district, and if one would like football advice, he’d be a good guy to ask. After all, he coached the ‘Cats for seven seasons after a long career as an assistant at Edcouch-Elsa, where he was a high school star who later played running back for Sul Ross. Caceres led EHS to the third round of the playoffs in 2010, and his stirring comeback victory over Sharyland in the area round classic at McAllen’s Memorial Stadium (Stevie Guerrero!) marks the last time the program claimed a postseason triumph.

Any listing of EHS coaches would be incomplete without mention of Joe Vazquez, who ranks fourth on the all-time victories list in town after a smooth 41-23-2 run from 1990 to 1995. He faced the difficult task of replacing the irreplaceable Richard Flores and preceded the equally successful Vela (The Ernie Sanchez season of 1996 as a brief interlude). But Vazquez was a top-shelf coach, and his 1993 club still holds the program record for points scored in a season, 425.

So Guzman is in high cotton as far as coaching legends go, and none is more impressive than Flores, who came back to his hometown after five seasons at Rio Hondo and Lyford. Flores never had a losing season with Edinburg, winning 124 times and taking the ‘Cats to eight playoff appearances. From 1983-87 his clubs won 53 games and lost just nine, making the third round of the playoffs three years in a row at one stage and becoming the Team of the Eighties by wide acclaim, posting 88 triumphs in that span.

How fitting then, that one of Flores’ players from back in the day should take the reins of the program in 2021, just in time to coach in the 1,000th game in Red and Blue history.

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