After a week, he can see that his team has picked up where it left off at the end of the spring semester, and Rene Saenz is high as a kite for the upcoming football season.
“Oh yeah, we’re gonna be ready, no better time than right now, football!” exclaimed the fourth-year head coach, whose Cougars were a playoff team a year ago and expect to be so again. “We’ve had a great first week, got into the pads today and are getting after it, which is good.”
Saenz and his North squad appear to have one of the most potent offenses in District 31-6A, especially with the arrival of runner Christian Flores, who nearly knocked out 1,000 yards for Vela last year in spectacular part-time duty. Now a junior, the quick-footed flier pairs with returning vet Ethan Vela (cranked out more than 800 in 2016) behind a line that brings back four starters and a few shovel-ready replacements. Vela will also see time in the slot, and North has no fewer than five excellent kids in that catcher crew.
That offensive group has the coaches fired up and it includes Frankie Zuniga at quarterback. When he got in last season the little baseball standout did a nice job and now he’s ready to take command.
“There are two things that will spell success, among others,” Saenz commented. “One is health, as always, a team has to avoid too many injuries. And the other is explosiveness, and I think we will be much more dangerous this season in that regard.”
Saenz means that with Flores, a threat to go the distance every snap, and Zuniga, a very accurate passer, defenses will have a lot to plan for.
“We looked at the film from last year and there were so many times when we looked like we had a big gainer, and ended up with like eight yards instead of 50 and a touchdown,” he explained. “Now with Frankie teams have to respect the pass, and with Christian, well, they know he can go that 50 yards, in a hurry.”
The Coogs have been in the hunt every year under Saenz, making the postseason twice, and now the program wants to climb in the standings and engineer some playoff noise. If the new defense comes through, that aspiration will be a reality. The unit led by Frank Franz brought over former Roma head coach Max Habecker to work with the linebackers, a fine move by all accounts, and the new mentor has a real hot prospect to tutor.
In junior Mario Rodriguez, North has a rangy and strong kid who likes to run and hit, and one whose family lineage stretches back into the old days with the Blue and Gold. His brother and father were outstanding Coogs and now comes Mario, who will be the centerpiece of the team’s new 3-4 scheme.
“I think we will be able to use our speed on D with that scheme,” said Saenz, who should know about this side of the ball, as he was the long-time defensive coordinator at North under Roy Garza, now the city’s athletic director. “We still have the 4-2 in our pocket but we like the new look with the personnel we have.”
The loss of LB Marc Esquivel to transfer was a downer, but Ernesto Garcia is up from the JV and is said to be a legitimate talent. Plus, three-year letterman JoJo Munoz is now at outside linebacker, and Saenz likens his skill set and attitude to those of Roy Cantu, a terrific competitor for the squad a few years back.
Also on the debit side for North was the upstate move of league defensive Newcomer of the Year Julious Jimenez; his absence at DT leaves the front line a bit green, but there are some youngsters with speed ready to step in. And again, quickness and wheels will define the Coog charge in 2017, from stem to stern.
“Bottom line, we are not going to be as big as we have been in the past,” Saenz said. “But we compensate for that using our athleticism and speed; it’s a quick team everywhere you look, and we are pretty excited to get going for real.”
NOTES: North starts the push toward the regular season with a home scrimmage against Harlingen, Friday at 7 at Richard R. Flores Stadium. Then it’s a road workout at Sharyland the next week before the season opener Saturday, Sept. 2, against Brownsville Vets.