One cannot help but be a tad ambivalent at such events; a celebration signing ceremony lauding the great student-athletes and their accomplishments, auguring well for their future. And yet, sadness as well, for when will North see the likes of some of these all-around champions again? And who will they be?
For the handful of coaches who gathered together Thursday, the answers to those queries: hopefully, someone some day, sooner than later ideally. Waiting in the wings, should they be able to combine talent, hard work on the field and off, and the obligatory bit of luck, might be the next class of superb student-athletes.
It was a real cattle call at the PAC as no fewer than five of the school’s top athletes signed off on high school and on to the chance at the next level. Football quarterback Christian Espinoza will be headed to Georgetown in the fall, to play for Southwestern while teammate Justin Guerra has a longer journey, up to McPherson, Kan., to run track for Central Christian College. Both have been exemplary performers and solid citizens, and thus will be missed.
Recent regional distance champion Aldo Nava, who competes in the state track meet soon, is the latest ace dealt by Coach Homer Martinez to make the grade, as he inked a pact with Incarnate Word in San Antonio. Nava put in the work, the right way according to his coach, and should be a real find for the Cardinal thinclads.
Then there was Jackie Longoria, the heart and soul of the North softball effort for four tremendous seasons; now she will trade in her Lady Coog togs for those of the University of Houston-Victoria, and the Valley’s loss will most certainly be the Gulf Coast’s gain. Longoria, as Coach Richard Tressler related well, is a special individual whose presence in every way has exemplified the excellence of the program. Tressler ranks ol’ No. 1 amid the select group of program stalwarts over the past 20 seasons, and with ample reason.
Finally, a fellow who was instrumental in the soccer team’s magical mystery tour this season. The Coogs rolled all the way to the Elite 8, setting a program standard for success, and lithe midfielder Brian Gutierrez was an integral part of the history-making season. His next step is far, far east of here, to West Virginia Wesleyan, where he will reunite with sister Sammie (a brief North star of old), now a coach at the school after a fine college soccer career.
The Gutierrez Clan is one of the First Families of Edinburg sports, as along with Sammie and Brian, Paige was a standout for Coach Danny Valdez’ girls’ team back in the day. The Gutierrez parents – Brian’s dad is a noted club coach and organizer – now face the prospect of the Empty Nest, or Bench in their case, and are thrilled to see that Brian is moving on to the next level.
And Gutierrez embodied well the theme of the afternoon, excellence in both the classroom and on the pitch. When the Cougars were preparing for the state quarterfinals up in San Antonio last month, the swift and skilled Gutierrez was finishing up competition in computer science for the UIL. With his mother driving the getaway car at top speed and precision, Brian was able to shuttle from one high-level affair to the next without skipping a beat, and that is the punch line.
All these great student-athletes, with support from home and school, have proven that one can aspire to the heights, and achieve them, to the huzzahs and cheers of the gallery after the fact. We hate to see them go but surely their examples will be the seed planted for new lines of high-achieving standouts, in time.
THE NEXT GROUP
One junior who was not (as of yet) part of the signing drill was Vanessa Garces. The softball whiz is, despite what has been erroneously reported on these pages – multiple times, admittedly – but a junior, and will be back for more amazing exploits in 2018.
Another notable on the scene Thursday was track coach Doug Erickson, who has undergone a very difficult year due to severe health problems. Having beaten the odds with the help of a cadre of doctors, Erickson reports that he will up and out of the chair soon, and looks forward to springing back into full action with the turn of the school calendar. His expertise and ebullience are unrivaled, as we know.
The third character who will be returning to form in no time flat is Christian Flores, who received a prestigious award from Dave Campbell’s Texas Football Magazine Thursday, for his considerable exploits on and off the field. Flores, heading into his junior season, is being touted by many as the best running back in the Valley, which means that Coach Rene Saenz is beyond ecstatic to have the quick-footed flier in the fold for 2017.