Let folks underestimate the Jags all they want. Econ has been there before and generally been able to prove the naysayers wrong.
Off a trying 4-6 season without a postseason berth, the Jags have many reasons to be excited about the upcoming campaign. One is a recent tradition of competitive football, which made last season an anomaly on the curve. Another is possession of a handful of bona fide honor candidates. And a third is the spirit to overcome.
“We love it, I mean, go ahead, overlook us all they want,” laughed Econ coach Gabe Pena. “Better than everyone is gunning for you, really. We are used to being the underdog, and you know what? We thrive on that mentality actually.”
Teams that sleep on the Orange this year could get a rude awakening, and it might be Rolando Alvizo doing the reminders. Heading into his third season as a starter, the strapping safety is going about 205 now, will probably play a hybrid outside linebacker spot in 2018, and also do some offensive duty.
“I think we will have some guys who do get on the field both ways,” said Pena, noting that if a team has those sorts of athletes, spotting them all over the field is a way to overcome lack of depth. “That guy has worked hard and has a lot of ability, hands and feet, and he should be a good runner for us.”
It is clear that team leader Alvizo has accomplished his duties in the weight room, and as a whole the Jag squad looks to have done the same: as fall workouts began last week they exhibited good-size lines and some muscular options among the skill players.
“I have to hand it to these kids, they have really worked well this summer, and we’re proud of them,” the coach explained. “That’s why we are excited for the season, we made the decision not to do spring for the first time in some years, so we are fresh.”
The main reason to eschew spring – the Jags were the only team in town to be thus idle in May – has to do with how last year turned out.
“It was tough, just one of those years a program has to endure every now and then,” Pena said of the injury-riddled run. “We were competitive in most games but we just kept getting guys go down. Against P-SJ-A we were ahead at the half and then on one play, two offensive linemen got hurt … neither kid came back all season, and that really hurt us.”
The new line, paced by honor candidate Hector Tamez at tackle, is big and strong, meaning Econ might be back to some ground and pound, a recipe that spelled success in the past.
The depth chart in the backfield includes Alvizo and fellow defensive stalwart Jonathan Martinez, plus stocky little speedster Jeremy Fernandez. Fernandez is set for a breakout year along with left-handed quarterback Albert Guerra, an experienced signal-caller.
“We expect Albert to manage the team, control the game, and he can do that,” Pena commented. “He’s been around and he know what he’s doing. We’re going to move the chains, control the clock this season.”
Though the defense lost a number of starters to graduation, the unit looks to have promise, especially if Abel Moreno is recovered from surgery.
“He was playing very well when he went down midway through the year and right now he is trying to get used to playing taped,” said Pena of the rugged corner who has wheels and the knack for making the big play. “Again, injuries were tough for us last year, and actually I would say that our coaches did their best job ever, just getting us onto the field last year to be competitive. If we stay healthy, we should be fine.”
A hot spot could be the defensive line, a Jag bonus in seasons of yore. The team has a bunch of athletes up front, and prominently, the coaches are looking for Canelo Gomez, younger brother of former all-star Boxer Gomez, to come on strong.
Jaime Olivarez, the only grid coach who has been at the school since it opened in 2000, sports an attacking D-line group. He and veteran defensive guru Cruz Gaitan – back for his second go-round at the school – are set for battle.
“Last year we had a bunch of sophomores with promise and they were thrown into the fire,” Olivarez explained. “Now is the time for them to blossom, we have several guys who are going to be crossover types, maybe play some offense in our Jumbo package.”
Another good-looking prospect on the line also has some bloodline connections. Ralston Reyna, whose older brother Ryan “Cowboy” Reyna was a member of a fine Wrecking Crew unit back in the day, is expected to see the field often. Backing the line will be returning tackling machine Marco Plata, with some tough new customers looking to fill in missing gaps on that second line of defense.
Pena feels that his club has the makings of a playoff entry, and says that the Orange will settle for nothing less as scrimmages against Donna and Brownsville Pace approach.
“We are getting the Jag Swag back, these kids believe they can be a very good team,” he concluded. “They have gotten used to being in the playoffs, and they want to get back to that.”