As the only city team in action right now, the football Jags are enjoying their time in the spotlight, even though the heat is stifling these days. As Econ began spring football practice with a full week of workouts last week, the mood was upbeat as a number of new faces seek to break into the lineup.
Coach Oscar Salinas reported a solid turnout at the onset of the team’s month-long spring effort, though a number of front-line kids were sidelined with minor injuries and the program’s marquee talent, Nelson Hampton, was busy at the regional track meet.
The absence of some of the big names has given some newcomers more reps, which will help develop the depth that the squad lacked last year, when it started fast but ended with another sub-.500 season.
Looking at the Jag roster for 2010, one is impressed with the abundance of height, especially in the underclass. While three offensive line starters return, none of them were in uniform for the first week of workouts. In their stead, a trio of sophomores-to-be was at the fore of the action.
In Luis Prieto, Genaro Acevedo, and Felix Gallegos, the Orange has three huge options to go with. They are all in the 230-pound range at least, with good 6-foot-plus height. With veterans Randy Mariscal, Michael Garza, and Aurelio Garcia set as 2010 starters, and burly Jesse Villarreal penciled in at a guard, there is an open slot available, and the three sophs will vie for playing time there, as well as providing a blow for the experienced linemen.
There is also some tall timber at the receiver positions, with Kacey Martinez and tight end David Lee Rodriguez back for another season. The oft-injured Martinez showed glimpses of stardom last season and is potentially a serious deep threat outside. Rodriguez should provide a dependable target once again; he can also get deep.
With the graduation of Rudy Villarreal, the quarterbacking duties fall to senior Edgar Cuevas, who has a good arm and has patiently waited his turn to run the club. He can make all the throws and has the bulk to stand in against the rush.
When the explosive Hampton integrates into the mix this week, he will find that there are a number of other backs looking to earn playing time. Besides returning letterman Osiel Garza, two newcomers who are hard to tell apart have been strong so far. Nathan Monterosa and Andrew “Woody” Flores are lanky high-steppers with good moves, and they took turns bolting though the line last week. Monterosa is the one in high orange socks. Veteran plugger Rey Trevino will be back for his senior campaign, though he has nursing a groin strain in camp.
Legendary coordinator Freddy Hernandez was in fine form last week with his usual well-placed, hilarious, and offbeat comments. His defense could be one of the best in the league this season despite heavy grad losses.
The linebackers, long a Jaguar strength, should be tough again in 2010, led by tackling machine Victor Salinas and augmented by promising prospect Aaron Garza. Garza is thick and moves well from the middle; Tuesday he made a number of smart plays and should be in the mix along with returning starter Alvaro Bocanegra.
While standout Andrew Fox has used up his eligibility in the secondary, Econ can still call on shut-down corner Aaron Garcia, who was at his ballhawking best last week. Vying to take over Fox’s role at safety is a rangy kid named Andrew Duarte, a 6-foot-2 athlete who displayed nice recovery speed in early workouts. The best bet to pair with Garcia at corner is Andy Sanchez, a muscular and physical DB who seems to relish contact.
Up front, the man to watch is Justin Leija, a big and strong guy who suffered a season-curtailing ankle injury in scrimmage action last year but appears to be 100 percent ready to go this spring. He’s 6-2, 220 with a fierce burst off the edge.
Econ will continue its work through the next two weeks, culminating in an intrasquad scrimmage at Cats Stadium Friday, May 21 starting at 6 p.m.
Salinas hopes that this is the year that his program breaks through to the playoffs for the first time since 2003.
“They’ve been getting after it despite the heat,” said the only coach the Orange has ever had. “We’ve been getting some good work in so far.”