some basic assessments, general observations, and possible scenarios, all of which leave the fans chomping at the bit to get the fall to arrive.
Vela coach John Campbell knows all this, having ridden the rapids through many canyons under the moon. He can say that he likes the direction his team is headed following the completion of spring ball, and he can attest that the SaberCats have some kids who are almost guaranteed to have tremendous seasons in 2018.
Many have inquired about the quarterback position, which was vacant following the loss of Nate Garcia to graduation.
“There no doubt, there went a heckuva lot of offensive production,” admitted Campbell, preparing for his second season in town. “But we feel really good about the position, we have some talented kids there right now.”
That might include sophomore-to-be A.J. Sotelo, who ran No. 1 all spring.
“We’re pleased with his development; he’s a good athlete who is also on the varsity baseball team,” said the coach. “He has a high football IQ, a quick release, and plenty of arm strength. It would be difficult to compare him with Nate, really because they have totally different styles.”
Campbell said that Garcia was a super athlete who developed into a great quarterback. And he adds that Sotelo is on schedule to make that progress as well.
“If it’s A.J. we plan to surround him with offensive talent, and let him progress,” he explained. “He doesn’t need to be the guy just yet, he just needs to do what our system requires, which is to make checks, make the right decisions, and get the ball where it needs to be.”
One thing is for sure, and that is that Sotelo, or any of the other Vela QBs (including newcomer Frankie Zuniga, over from North this spring) will have a terrific target to aim for this season, as Daniel Enriquez is ensconced in a slot receiver role heading into his senior season.
“Obviously, Daniel was a huge component of our defense last season, one of the main reasons we had such a good unit,” Campbell said, and indeed, the 2017 Vela D was the best in program annals. “We have already seen in spring what he can do on offense, when he gets the ball in his hands, he’s just kind of magic. He makes big-time plays, and his ball skills and knack for making plays, it’s just about as good as any guy I have been around as a coach. He just goes and get it.”
The move of Enriquez from safety to WR is part of Campbell’s philosophy: to get the best athletes on the field.
“I think we further learned this against Austin Westlake in the playoffs last year,” he said. “Get your best on the field, somewhere, even if they would rather be playing somewhere else. There is no substitute for athletic kids, who can make a play.”
A good example might be defensive prospect Eddie Salinas, who worked at end in the spring after logging significant time at outside linebacker last year.
“There’s a guy who played as a sophomore, has worked hard, and we are throwing him in there at an end right now,” Campbell said. “I think he has the knack for making plays, getting to the ball; linebackers: we have two all-district guys inside and a couple of real playmakers outside, so right now Eddie’s best bet is at an end.”
Another aspect of having Enriquez on offense is the development of the secondary without him. Campbell said that if needed, the dynamic senior-to-be will get some snaps in his old spot. But the hope is that he won’t have to.
“We forced our hand here somewhat with the switch, but that will end up being a good thing, I think,” he suggested. “We have a lot of good young athletes competing in the secondary, they made progress in the spring, and if they are able to handle the load, when we start playing someone besides ourselves, we won’t have to spot play Daniel back there. We sought to expedite the development of the youngsters during spring.”
Vela will tackle four tough opponents in non-district this fall, starting with perennial power Laredo United, then Brownsville Hanna, followed by McAllen Memorial, and Los Fresnos before 31-6A play cranks up.
“Yeah that’s some group,“ the coach mused. “I think in terms of strength-of-schedule, we are right near the top. But so be it, we will have to bring our A Game every week, and that will a good challenge for the team, and exciting for the community, the fans. If we want to take the next step, get into playing December football, that is the sort of challenge we have to have.”