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By Kenneth Roberts

Freelance Writer


The Rio Grande City Rattlers are intensely and eagerly preparing for the approaching 2016 football season with high hopes that a blend of experienced veterans and talented youngsters will propel the team into serious contention for a playoff berth and perhaps even a district title.

Head Coach Aaron Garcia, about to start his first season as the Rattler skipper, emphasized on Aug. 23, “We’ve tried to change the mindset; our goal is to have the team always come before the individual. I feel we’re making good progress in reaching that goal. I think they’re developing an attitude that they can achieve anything through hard work and team unity.”

The Rattlers will launched the 2016 season at home on Thursday night, Aug. 25 at 7 p.m. against the La Joya Coyotes in a non-district clash and came out victorious. The Rattlers will play only two non-district games before beginning district competition in the realigned District 31-5A that now contains three Laredo high schools.

Garcia contended, “We have to continue working hard and focus on what we do and take one week at a time. We are intent on being in the mix and plan on contending for the district title…If we keep progressing and keep focused, the playoffs are a realistic possibility and there’s even a chance for a district championship.”

In its 2016 preseason edition, Texas Football magazine indicated that the Rattlers have five returning starters on offense and four on defense. Garcia stated, “We return four ‘true starters’ on offense and two on defense.”

Concerning the planned offensive approach, the coach explained, “We will run a multiple offense, but the base offense will be the spread. The focus will be on being efficient offensively and taking what the (opposing) defense gives us. I think that as a unit, we have a chance to be solid overall…We will focus on being efficient offensively and moving the chains consistently. We expect to have big play potential.”

The offense will be led by junior returning starter Jason Perez (175 pounds) at quarterback. Perez gained second team All-District honors in 2015 as Rio’s sophomore starting quarterback as he passed for 669 yards and four touchdowns and rushed for 397 yards and five more scores for a total offensive output of 1066 yards and nine touchdowns.

Garcia commented that Perez “looks calm and collected and is making good progress. He’s throwing the ball well and has the capability to run the ball well when he has to. He has a balanced set of skills. He has great poise and carries himself well in the offense. The kids look to him as a leader; he’s getting a good grasp of the offense.”

Senior halfback Casimiro Olivarez (170) is a returning starter and first team All-District honoree. In his junior season, Olivarez scampered for 781 yards and nine touchdowns, averaging 4.4 yards per carry. Garcia stressed that “he can be a tremendous asset for us. He has good burst coming out of the backfield and has gained valuable experience the last two years. He is also capable of pounding for extra yardage.”

Juniors Jaime Gomez (190) and Rodrigo Rodriguez (160) are also available at halfback. Garcia noted that Gomez “is new to the position. His potential is high; he just needs to get accustomed to the position. He is a powerful runner and good blocker.” He contended that Rodriguez “has excellent speed and good potential.”

The Rattlers have many candidates at the receiver positions, with seniors Victor Marquez (160), Jacob Guerra (150), Diego Garcia (155), Javier Garcia (165) and Leo Serna (155) all expected to see plenty of action. He indicated that Marquez “has some varsity experience and good hands.” The coach evaluated Guerra as “a good route-runner with excellent speed.”

Garcia declared that Diego Garcia “has excellent speed and runs routes well. We expect him to be one of our leaders.” He added that Javier Garcia “has done well in the two scrimmages. He has excellent hands and has a knack for making plays.” He pointed out that Serna “is a transfer from Rowe and will see action at slot receiver. He has a good knowledge of the offense; he’s very versatile and can play different positions, including running back. He feel he has good potential.”
Another option at receiver is senior Rafael Gutierrez (160), who didn’t play in 2015. Coach Garcia commented, “He has excellent speed and great hands.” The coach concluded, “We feel we have very good depth at the receiver positions.”

Garcia emphasized that the offensive line “has the potential to be a team strength…The offensive line has very good size; they work really well as a unit. They’re smart kids and have made really good progress on their footwork.”

Senior center Dillon McGuffin (305) and senior right tackle Jose Guerrero (275) return as starters and All-District honorees from the 2015 season. Guerrero, a first team honoree, is set to begin his third season as a starter, while McGuffin achieved second team All-District recognition as a junior.  Garcia stressed, “These two provide excellent leadership and lots of experience.” Junior Luis Salinas (270) will be the starting left tackle, with Garcia commenting that “he is quick and has good feet; he has excellent potential.”
Other offensive line candidates are senior guards Rey Guerrero (275) and Candido Garcia (280) and junior guards Mario Pena (200) and Fernando Robles (275). Junior Caleb Longoria (250) is capable of playing guard or center.

Garcia expressed his belief that McGuffin, Jose Guerrero and Salinas “have the potential to be among the district’s best linemen.”

Concerning the defensive outlook, Garcia declared that “I’ve been really impressed with the growth of the defense. The 3-4 will be the base defense. This defense allows you to put better athletes with more speed on the field.”

The coach noted that senior Oscar Montalvo (270) is a returning starter and second team All-District honoree at nose tackle. In 2015, Montalvo collected 28 tackles, one sack and one tackle for loss. Garcia contended that Montalvo “has great size and strength; he’s very quick off the ball.”

Senior outside linebacker Luis Lopez (160) also returns after achieving Honorable Mention All-District plaudits in 2015.  As a junior, Lopez contributed 42 tackles, one interception, one sack, four forced fumbles and eight tackles for loss. Garcia explained that Lopez “has a nose for the football and makes plays.”

Coach Garcia commented that “our defensive line and linebacker positions have the best depth, with quality players to rotate in…We have good depth at linebacker. Everyone is capable of starting.”

Other defensive linemen slated to see significant action are senior ends Alejandro Islas (275), Javier Garcia (255) and Juan Vasquez (220). Junior nose tackle Derek Solis (245) and junior end Ivan Reyes (255) are also expected to see ample playing time. Garcia evaluated Islas as “tremendously quick, agile, and strong.” He declared that Garcia “is quick off the ball and has excellent speed.”

The Rattler skipper added that Vasquez, previously an outside linebacker, “is quick and strong and plays with good leverage.” He emphasized that Reyes is showing great promise at the end position.

The leading inside linebacker candidates are senior Juan Carlos Perez (185), junior Luis Ortega (175), senior Lawrence Fuentes (165), junior Jeremy Gorena (165), junior J.B. Saenz (185) and junior Daniel Garcia (175). The coach referred to Perez as “very strong; a great tackler who is very aggressive and has a good nose for the football.” He called Ortega “very aggressive and a good tackler.”

In addition to Luis Lopez, junior Matthew Soto (160) and seniors Enrique Chavero (180) and Isaac Ortiz (165) will see substantial playing time at outside linebacker. Garcia evaluated Soto as “very agile with excellent speed; he’s a very good tackler,” and called Ortiz “an excellent tackler.”

Coach Garcia stressed that “our defensive backs are intelligent, hard working, and have excellent speed. As they gain experience and gel as a group, they have the capability to develop into a solid unit. This is a young and talented unit. They are aggressive and good tacklers.”

Possibilities at cornerback include senior Albert Mireles (150) and juniors Mariano Reyes (140), Abram Benavides (145) and Roel Garcia (145). Junior Jacob Moreno and senior Jonathan Casarez provide additional options at cornerback. Garcia emphasized that Reyes “has excellent speed and is a good tackler,” adding that Benavides “has good hands and is aggressive.”

Candidates at safety are senior Alexis Barrera (150) and juniors Israel Lambert (150), Joel Lopez (140), Nick Cantu (155), Eric Hernandez (140) and Aaron Garza (145). The coach indicated that Lambert, who can also play outside linebacker, “has good range and a knack for finding the ball.” He referred to Hernandez “as a good hitter” and noted that Barrera can play both safety and cornerback.

Junior Jeremy Gorena is expected to handle punting duties, with Coach Garcia pointing out that senior placekicker Daniel Perez “is a soccer player who has an excellent leg and good potential.”

About the District 31-5A outlook, Garcia emphasized, “I look forward to the challenge of the new district with the three Laredo schools. We expect the Laredo schools (Cigarroa, Martin and Nixon) to all be worthy challengers. Nixon has had some success in recent years. Sharyland and Mission Veterans should again be strong. Roma has gained a lot of momentum and confidence with two straight playoff appearances and looks to be improved.”

“Sharyland Pioneer has a lot of talent and their experience could really pay off this year,” predicted the coach. “Valley View has a lot of potential with the talented players they have. From top to bottom, this will be a very competitive district.”

Garcia concluded that if several key factors fall into place, Rattler fans can expect the 2016 team to be a definite factor in the District 31-5A standings, with a playoff berth a strong possibility.

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