After being invited to take part in a school board meeting last week, Coach Gabe Pena was forced to let his staff handle the Tuesday practice session for the last hour of so. But it worked out well, since his Jag crew has hit the ground running in 2011 with pep in the step.
The Jags wrapped up the latest spring season last week, and were pleased with the overall direction of the effort. With a pair of new coordinators and another new coach on the way, Pena has made a prominent mark early on.
Though the returning veterans amount to a handful, and are especially scarce on defense, this year's Orange edition has some surprises in store for opponents.
The first is not really a surprise, because everyone knows by now that Pena has installed the Nasty Slot Offense, which he learned from coaching legends Bruce Bush and Tony Villarreal. The surprise will come on Friday nights; it's one thing to know it's coming, but when a D works mainly against the Spread or Pro Set most of the season, having a week to prepare for the quick-hitting, misdirection set is tough to accomplish.
The Jag run game takes a no-nonsense approach, predicated on quickness, with handoffs flat to the line, and sharp, initial cuts from the ball-carrier. The look does incorporate a motion man who can get the ball up anywhere from four or five to eight or nine times a game.
And as is the case with Weslaco and Pharr North, other schools that run the set, it often takes a number of backfield kids to make it work.
"We will have a bunch of people carrying the ball this year," promised Pena. "And we think we have some good ones."
During spring workouts, the defensive players were occasionally heard hollering over to the other side of the ball, "Hey. Hampton! Where's Nelson?" And truthfully, timing is not on the Jags' side in one respect: gone is superstar Nelson Hampton, who rushed for nearly 1,000 yards in 2010 before graduating.
It would have been something to see No. 1 do his thing in the Nasty Slot, but Econ has got some promising options to turn to in Pena's first season. Foremost is rangy Nathan Monterrosa, who should be the No. 1 alternative behind the formidable Jag line. He's got good vision and can break free at any moment. All he has to do is stay healthy and get used to the new attack.
Though he's been moved to defense, don't be shocked to see stocky Bubba Villarreal on the other side of the line of scrimmage on occasion. Now playing outside linebacker, the talented junior has filled a definite hole for the Jags there, but he was a hard-running third-down back last year, and can move the chains with the best of them.
As for the line, the main difference in regard to the new routine is between drive-blocking and the quick punch. In the Nasty Slot, trench warriors have to make initial contact but the play will hit the line in less time than in other offenses, meaning that the kids will not be called upon to hold their blocks as long as in the past. It also means they have to get where they are going in a hurry, as backs will hopefully be long gone by the time too many seconds have elapsed off the clock.