BY TJ GARCIA
Diego Hernandez and Lupe Rodriguez will forever be linked.
Hernandez is 6-foot-3, 210-pound young gun. Mission Veterans’ latest stud quarterback. Lupe Rodriguez is the Valley’s original gunslinger setting passing records for Mission High in the 1980s before throwing the ball and spread offenses were cool.
Rodriguez was Hernandez’s quarterback coach and offensive coordinator the last three years at Mission Veterans and the pair was together again Friday morning when Hernandez signed to play football at the University of the Incarnate word – the first Patriots’ football player to receive a D1 scholarship.
Hernandez led the Patriots (8-5) to the third round of the Class 5A playoffs last fall, the furthest they’ve ever advanced, while passing for an eye-popping 4,175 yards. He completed 298 of 504 attempts, threw 45 touchdowns to just nine interceptions and ran for 455 yards and 11 TDs.
Coach David Gilpin said there was plenty of interest in Hernandez from colleges across the state because of his passing prowess and his leadership skills.
“It was like having another Lupe Rodriguez on the field. He knew our offense as good as our offensive coordinator,” said Gilpin. “His football intelligence is off the charts. His arm strength. His accuracy. He can really, really fit a ball into a tight window. But he’s able to do that because he’s got confidence in himself.”
Hernandez said he was impressed with Incarnate Word’s football program, academics and campus. The Cardinals play in the Southland Conference, a NCAA D-1 FBS conference (think old Division I-AA) that includes Stephen F. Austin, Sam Houston State, Abilene Christian, Lamar and several Louisiana universities.
“When I went to visit the university it just felt like home. The coaching staff and everyone was very friendly,” said Hernandez. “They are a football program on the rise. They are starting to play tougher schools. They are in the process of getting a new stadium. Their quarterback just graduated. I am just looking for an opportunity.”
Hernandez added that his success would not have been possible without his teammates and coaches. The future Cardinal’s primary targets this last year were seniors Jacob Guerrero (66-1207) and Roman De Leon (87-1112). Landry Gilpin, a sophomore who filled in for Hernandez when he missed six games as a junior due to injury) also caught 61 passes last season.
The senior quarterback’s phenomenal season ended in a third-round loss to Dripping Springs where his 300-yard passing game got him within four yards of the RGV’s all-time single season passing record of 4,179 yards. That record, which has stood since 1987, is held by none other than Hernandez’s mentor and coach Lupe Rodriguez.
Rodriguez, who just accepted the head coaching job at PJSA High, also hit for 50 touchdowns that year. Rodriguez, who has a special bond with Hernandez, said he sees nothing but success in Hernandez’s future.
“He’s a student of the game. He is a master of the game. He was always texting me. Always asking questions. Things that you look for in a quarterback, and he just grew and grew,” said Rodriguez. “He got to the point where he was just like having another coach on the field. He understood all our playbook. He understood the system. That’s what made him great as a quarterback.”