August 12, 2022
By Greg SelberClick here for game photos
Before the scrimmage got going in earnest Friday, with the varsity Bobcats, there was quite a lot of enthusiasm in the stadium at EHS, with freshman and junior varsity contingents bumping against similar squads from Los Fresnos. At the same time. We will explain.
A healthy crowd was on hand for the home side (solid showing from the Falcon rooters), some of course just waiting for the older kids, but many wanting to see the future unfold before their eyes. The youngins. Loud shouts emanated from the stands every now and then, a fired-up father here, a delighted mother there. There is nothing like the start of football season, at whatever level, to get the fires burning once again following the slack period of supposed repose that is summer.
One wonders how many of the fans gathered for the kickoff to the latest season were interested in not only the scrimmage, but the ground, so to say. There was once a terrific little runner called T.J. Worbington, who was by far the best athlete in town during the early 1940s, dashing up and down the football field or the basketball court with speed, style, and results. One now wonders what the glorious greyhound from the past would have to say about the fact that for the first time ever, Edinburg High has artificial turf on its PRACTICE field. Amazing. Just what would T.J. think? Maybe a joke from science fiction about Buck Rogers? We know not. A loud, long country whistle? Whoo dogies!
The early scrimmage continued, and here a strange note: both JV and freshmen were plugging along on the same field, the length divided into halves to accommodate the crush. And this caused some to experience a sort of vertigo. Which side to watch, indeed, and how? At some stages the snaps were unintentionally synchronized from each side, giving an impossible Hobson’s Choice. At others, the action was intermittent, not simultaneous, and one was able to follow each scrum, sort of, anyway. Busy.
When the varsity fellows arrived, the buzz was palpable, and out they strode onto the new turf. Anyone who spent some time on the old thing, same stadium, so I guess, same field, whoa confusing, will remember the dirt and grass as sporadic in places, dangerous in others. They will remember the rough and/or rocky spots which always made dribbling into a difficult maneuver for soccer players.
It was a sight darker in the day, lesser lights, and when it rained – as it had done earlier in the scrimmage day, ironically – the ants, bugs, and what-have-you were always on the scene in an instant, riding the sun’s re-waves down upon the all-too-suspecting kids in their practice gear. After rain, you fickin to get bit. Anyone who has done stretching exercises on the field after a good pour, when the steamed sweat runs down your neck and back even before you begin, and the grumbling starts to percolate, will know of what we speak. The hardest part about the whole drill was completing stretches before the army of ants had invaded; sometimes, a close-run thing.
So, turf at every ECISD school, and that is truly a fabulous development; A.D. Roy Garza and the gang who are running this construction caper can be proud of what the group and city have accomplished in recent times. It wasn’t too long ago that thinking about artificial turf, or AstroTurf as it was originally called, was reserved for the Westlakes of the World. Or Sharyland, lol.
Now, however, the town has its long-touted fake but lovely green, and of course this will absolutely change the way the soccer teams play, first and foremost – the Bobcats have for years tormented opponents with their exquisite knowledge of dead space amid a smallish enclosure, so will have to recalibrate, due to the fact that American football fields are always the same size. But it is a boon for all the programs in the end, in many ways.
For those of you old enough to remember the Astrodome, the so-called Eighth Wonder of the World, this aside will please. Back in 1965, the Monsanto corporation (yes, same would be involved in the pesticides debacle down the road) created artificial turf that was termed “ChemGrass.” Seeing that this was a relatively toxic name, not to mention oxymoronic, the brains then decided to re-christen it AstroTurf, as it was about to be installed in Houston’s new stadium. The Astros, just renamed after having dropped the Colt 45s nickname they’d used for their first three seasons in the majors, would become the first American pro sports team to play on AstroTurf. And INSIDE, to boot, but that’s a twist in the yarn we do not have time to recapitulate. Later there would be Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati, Three Rivers in Pittsburgh, and on down the line.
The resistance to turf at the time is not often recalled but it was sometimes substantial, especially from purists. Phillies slugger Dick Allen, never to be confused as holding any traditional beliefs, nonetheless said it best, ironically: “If a horse can’t eat it, I don’t want to play on it.”
One of the great sporting quotes of all time.
Along about the same time as the “birth” of AstroTurf, a bunch of science types at the University of Florida were perfecting a greenish liquid to help the Gator football players replenish fluids lost during physical activity. Its name, as you may have guessed by now, was Gatorade, Enough said, except to add that the Florida quarterback of the time, soon to win the 1966 Heisman Trophy, was none other than The ‘Ol Ball Coach himself, Steve Spurrier. Goodness.
Gatorade and AstroTurf, truly modern phenomena, for better or worse.
For the record, there was a deluge of moths descending upon the field by about 8 p.m., meaning that for all the initial happiness about having eluded the bugs via the new turf, alas. Perhaps the moth-like creatures who filled the air during the final hour of the varsity scrimmage had not gotten the memo. At any rate, there were absolutely zero ants sighted at the field Friday, so there is that.
LET’S GET IT STARTED
The opponent for the opening scrimmage, Los Fresnos, has been one of the Valley’s most consistent programs in the century, and made 13 playoff appearances in a row starting in 2005. After a poor 8-19 mark from 2018-20, the Falcons returned to the postseason in ’21, flattening Mission in bi-district before dropping out in area against SA Brennan. This year’s edition that came to EHS Friday does not quite have the overall size the program has displayed in the past but nonetheless appears to be a contender in District 32-6A, alongside perennials Harlingen, Weslaco, and San Benito.
Like the Bobcats in 31-6A, Los Fresnos is now in a skimpy 6-team district, meaning half its games will be of the non-district variety. Interestingly, three of the Falcons’ five non-league tilts will be versus 31-6A schools, providing a possible playoff preview. The ‘Cats, who start the regular season at McAllen High Aug. 26, will tackle Weslaco and San Benito during the run-up to loop action, and will also challenge city rival Vela (Sept. 2) and Weslaco East ahead of a Friday night showdown with Mission to commence the league wars, Oct. 7.
The team that Coach Rene Guzman will trot out for the long haul appears to be experienced on defense, seven starters back, while the offensive unit has some good-looking linemen, two backs who were prominent last season, and a huge hole to fill under center.
The whirlwind Rolando Abrego, who accounted for 66 percent of the team’s yardage from scrimmage in 2021, has graduated after a fantastic senior season. He led the program back to the playoffs for its first trip since 2018, though once there, the ‘Cats suffered their fifth straight one-and-done, expiring at Harlingen.
If EHS is to get in and claim a postseason W for the first time since 2010, shoring up the position will be a must. Ryen Abrego, Roly’s stocky younger brother, showed signs of promise last season but is shelved with an injury in the early going. He is expected to return soon enough, but Friday, sophomore J.T. “Jae” SantaMaria took a healthy number of snaps. He’s a tall kid with wheels, is the younger brother of a legendary trio of basketball sisters at the school, and he broke off a slick 40-yard burst against Los Fresnos, though it was nullified by a penalty flag.
Guzman can count on runners Noel Serna and Jacob Gonzalez, as the former gained more than 500 yards last season with seven touchdowns. An elusive scatback by nature, Serna showed that he has been working in the weight room, barreling through tackles on a third-and-long play Friday to earn a hard-won first down.
Up front on offense, EHS calls back the services of mighty mite center Adrian Salinas, who stands 5-4 but has excellent technique and smarts; he has been an inspiration for the program during his time on varsity and should be poised for an equally effective and dependable senior campaign. Joining him on the line are proven commodity Alessandro Escobedo and massive Erick Rossette among others, while newcomer Jesus Lerma is a strapping junior who should fit right in with the trench crew.
The top returning receivers are Raul Ramirez and Rivers Martinez, with both bringing some skills to the table; Martinez had 13 catches last season while Ramirez amassed 245 yards.
CORE OF THE CORPS
As suggested, defense might be the calling card in the early going as EHS sees the QB situation settle over time, and here, Guzman has loads of seasoned kids in the arsenal.
Jordan Ayala, a first-class troublemaker on the d-line, returns for his final season in Red and Blue, with edge-rushing end Edward Zuniga ready to cause problems for enemy offenses as well. The linebacking corps is led by Johnathan Maldonado, a hard-working hustler who emerged as a real team leader last year. Maldonado was up to his usual onfield disruption at the scrimmage Friday and could be heard hollering at/for his teammates when not out there: leadership. Fine football player, all around.
Ramon Vazquez is also back for 2022, and has proven playmaking ability, while Homero Cardenas got ample playing time last season and now steps into a full-time LB role. In Derrick Galindo, Ben Gonzalez, and Nicholas Gonzalez, the ‘Cats have a trio of secondary staples, and the scrimmage revealed a glance at some new faces back there; look for freshmen Jude Vega and Woodrow Villarreal to eventually vie for minutes at some point.
FITS AND STARTS
The scrimmage against the Falcons was notable for many of the things such early workouts generally offer, including a slew of penalties. The ‘Cats held their own for the most part, scoring a touchdown and banging through a field goal while Los Fresnos kicked three field goals. The Edinburg defense came up with consistent stops in its side of the field, which had to be a pleasant sign for Guzman and staff.
The coach, in his second year at his alma mater, spoke to the hard slog ahead in non-district, when EHS will tackle a bevy of Valley powers.
“It’s a tough schedule, it really is,” Guzman said as he watched his charges get started at Friday’s kickoff event. “But that will get us tougher, having to be ready to play a good team every week; by the time district gets here, we’ll be tested. We’ll get better because of it.”
There is a progression at work here, of course. Guzman said that the first scrimmage would be excellent for seeing where the club is at, and where it needs to go.
“It’s the evaluation we’re after,” he commented. “You can practice and work, learn, but that’s against your bros, whereas a scrimmage is more of a true valuation because it’s against guys who don’t know you, and vice versa. Scrimmages are more like games than practice.”
During the beginning portions of the work against Los Fresnos, one of the Bobcat coaches stated flatly the night’s other mantra.
“Take your steps, and pop people!” was what he said. Perfect. What we love about football.
Serna ripped off a sizeable early gain, though at first it was hard to tell it; the ‘Cats did the usual scramble of jersey numbers, with Serna wearing No. 2 instead of his normal No. 10. Subterfuge of this variety has been de rigueur since time immemorial, used to confuse the scouts who come to watch your ball team perform. Who was that?
The other confusing aspect to the football was a somewhat new hardware trend that has reached the area. Each of the schools wore helmets, so to speak, on top of their helmets, mushroomish, pad-like devices ostensibly designed to lessen the impact of contact and thus cut down on the number of concussions. This may or not work, as the jury is still out and there are other variables besides head-to-head contact to consider in this long-term health-and-safety push. The only thing for certain right now is that with their odd-looking new equipment, the players vaguely resembled Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles out there … Donatello was purple, all’s I remember.
Maldonado was at the fore of an initial defensive stop, doing what he has done since ancient times at Harwell, slamming to the ball and trying to make an impact once there. Ayala got after the quarterback on the next Los Fresnos possession, as he has done so often in the past. Falcons stopped.
Los Fresnos gained more yards than EHS in the opening section, prior to live/scoreboard action, but Guzman’s D made the plays when it had to, keeping the Falcs out of the end zone. The visitor hit a crossing route for big steps and a screen that nearly went the distance. But the ‘Cats were equal to each challenge with a key tackle or pass defense effort.
START THE CLOCK
When the two quarters of live action arrived, the Falcons hit a long gainer into the Red Zone, after a rare missed tackle by the home side. But again, EHS held, as the lanky DB Villarreal was in position to snuff out a third-down pass attempt.
After a slow start, the offense picked it up, though SantaMaria’s aforementioned breakout around right end did not stand; none of the quarters the club employed was able to generate much in the way of passing yardage. It will come.
As the teams traded field goals, it was EHS which gained momentum, launching a drive that ended with a Serna score and a 10-6 lead.
Midway through the final portion, the coaches busied themselves with review of some of the pre-scrimmage rules. Usually the teams agree on slight prohibitions for the night of toil, such as the curtailing of blitzes and stunts. Or stemming … sometimes the teams follow these guidelines, sometimes not. It’s all to let the kids ease into the maelstrom of the season, step by step, and also to try and limit the number of injuries.
Guzman unveiled a few wrinkles in the final quarter, his crew running an option play right, out of a Bunch Set right, and that sort of forward-moving, quick-hitting call might be something EHS employs quite often in 2022. Make the D decide. Getting the ball into the hands of the speedy Serna – in space – is a key for the club, and perhaps he might see his share of screens and wheels before the slate is complete.
Late in the day, Los Fresnos drove goalward before newcomer Angel Parral made a pass defense in the secondary. As they had done several times already, the ‘Cats held.
It should be an interesting 2022 in store for local fans, as the Bobcats appear to have the squad to compete for a 31-6A crown. One of their most notable foes, North, is a mirror image in some ways, with a top-shelf defensive group returning, along with three solid backs. The Cougars, as we will explore in later articles, are also like the ‘Cats in that they are currently auditioning new QBs, to replace the departed Evan Medrano (1,570 yards passing).
Econ has a new coach who is familiar to all locals, as Raul Salas takes the reigns of the club. The former North quarterback has long been touted as a cool, player’s coach, and this innovative offensive mind will finally get the chance to rock and roll as a head coach. Good on. North-Jags, last game, Nov. 4, holla!!
As for the rest of the 31-6A pack, it’s P-SJ-A with its wealth of skill position performers but a relative paucity of trench labor; Mission with rugged interior lines but a search for competent backs; and La Joya, once a formidable foe that has fallen on relatively hard times since the school split of almost 15 years back.
And there will be no Vela, as everyone knows by now, the SaberCats having joined the exodus of 6A teams down to a lower level, where they will compete in one of four Valley 5A leagues in 2022 and 2023, at least. And the road opens up for those who remain.
What it means is that four of six 31-6A squads will go to the postseason, two to be left on the sidelines. EHS starts the Real Season Oct. 7 on the road at Mission and that game will be the trend-setter. When the Bobcats greet friend North at Richard R. Flores Stadium Oct. 28 – ahead of a finale at home against the Bears Nov. 3 – the collision will probably be monumental, perhaps with a district title at stake, a prize the Bobcats have not claimed since 2004, the Coogs since 2001. That prospect in and of itself makes the latest football season well worth waiting for. And it is nearly here.