As a guy who grew up in town and played at the school he now coaches, J.J. Leija has a long, wide perspective about football and life. He suggests that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
“I mean, sure there is a difference between the 1980s and now, especially with the kids, because they are more prone to distraction,” he said at a recent workout. “There’s more for them to do these days while for us, football was basically all we had. Our parents were always all over us, too and that may not be the case as much today.”
But Leija, whose team starts the 2017 season picked third in District 31-6A, also knows that kids are kids, and football is football.
“We were not as daring back then, maybe not as independent , but the thing is, we have a bunch of kids who want to be here,” he stressed. “They want to play football and be part of a winner, and that is something that hasn’t changed. As for the coaches, well, we are doing a lot of the same things that our coaches did back in the 1980s, because they work.
“We’ve added some things we’re learned along the way, of course, but it is pretty simple really, in any era: work hard and believe. We have a belief right now, that we’re back, and we’re good, and that is something I wanted to establish last season. Now our goal is just to keep it going.”
The EHS mentor can count on some of his returning veterans to embody the staff’s beliefs out on the field. An example is junior LB Raymond Quintanilla, who steps into a very key role after the graduation of All-State backer Edgar Guerrero and the loss of promising James Champion, who has decided to focus on academics.
“That is some big loss right there, no doubt,” said Quintanilla, who plays the hybrid, or rover role for the defense. ‘But we are going to be alright, we have guys ready to step in and fill those spots, that’s the way it has to be. We’re all working to get better and we know we have a target on us this year, but that makes you want to work harder, do better.”
Look for junior Athan Villanueva to be one of those cats stepping in to fill the gaps necessitated by the losses. Leija expects he and the other new players to embrace their opportunities.
“Whether it’s back in the day or today, it boils down to hard work and just playing the game the right way, with the right spirit,” Leija said. “So while there may be some different circumstances, the thing is, it’s football, and that will never change, I think.”