By ARMANDO GARZA
Special to the NEWS
It feels like yesterday that I walked into a semi-dark Bobby Morrow Stadium as the San Benito Greyhounds began their summer workouts at 6:30 a.m. on Aug. 11.
I was the first reporter there to start the season and the last one to leave last Friday as the season was completed after a bi-district loss to Weslaco East. While I drove back after submitting my story, it hit me: After six wins, a shared district title, a Battle of the Arroyo no one will ever forget and a single-game school record for offensive yards, the San Benito Greyhounds’ season was over.
Just like that, there will be no more touchdowns, no more bands and no more gridiron excitement this year. Now with the opportunity to look back, I can safely say that although this season was far from the deepest playoff run I’ve covered in 12 years as a sportswriter, it really was a gratifying season because the PRIDE is certainly back in San Benito.
It was a pretty cool ride, too.
Back in the spring, when Dan Gomez was hired, I fielded countless questions and comments like, “Who is this guy?” “This was the best we could do?” and the like. Many felt the delayed decision was made hastily, not with enough thought and most felt the ’Hounds were doomed for another subpar season.
Turns out the San Benito Board of Trustees made a great call and Greyhound fans were about to find out what “War Dog” was all about.
Now, I won’t sit here and say I knew Gomez would do what he did in his first season with the ’Hounds. That would be a lie.
But I did know Gomez from his days as an assistant at Rio Hondo, one of the teams I covered closely as a small-school beat writer for seven seasons. I did know Gomez was a go-getting, football-lifer who was intense and just what the ’Hounds needed.
That fact was evident from spring ball. Many of the players voiced how things were different. Things were more intense, and many players happily came in and worked hard through the offseason.
Then when summer workouts began, things just kept that different vibe. Players were focused, drills were crisp and scripted and things ran smoothly. Gomez was involved in every drill and a veteran staff was busy earning the trust of a talented bunch, which went 3-7 a year ago.
In a superb scrimmage at PSJA North, things just clicked. The offense was explosive and the defense was aggressive again. Some felt we’d seen this preseason movie before, and not many bought in.
When I went on Action 4 Sports’ Countdown to Kickoff preview show in late August, I picked the ’Hounds to finish second in 32-6A, easily in the playoffs.
No one else did.
Off air, I was ribbed a little for picking the “hometown paper” team, but I knew the talent on this squad and they’d bought into Gomez’s message.
I can’t go any further without commending the players. Guys like Gabriel Vasquez, Cristian Sierra, Chris Padilla and Pedro Coronado who were each supremely talented and also the seniors who led this team. They were the catalysts who helped end a two-year playoff drought and set the foundation for what hopes to be a solid football future for the purple and gold.
And the rest of this year’s seniors: Victor Gaitan, Raul Mota, Benito Cavazos, Juan Hernandez, Javier Ortiz, Daniel Guerra, Isaac Sanchez, R.J. Atkinson, Flavio Diaz, Omar Garcia, Jimmy Macias, Roel Rodriguez, Matthew Yzaguirre, Ricky Quintanilla, Christopher Sanchez, Javier Carrillo, Jose Rodriguez, Ryan Gonzales, Alex Garcia, Andrew Olivarez, Alex Veloz, Brandon Rico, Marcos Zuniga, Gilbert Sandoval, Jorge Garcia, Alexis Martinez, Brandon Huerta, Brandon Gonzalez Leal, Christopher Obregon and Leo Reyes…they are to be lauded for their commitment and contributions as well.
There were underclassmen aplenty, including 4/5 of the offensive line which was terrific all year. Mando Medrano with his heroics, J.R. Gaitan with his speed, and countless others.
San Benito surprised everyone with a 53-7 shellacking of Edinburg to start the year. But Gomez, with the pressure of a one high school 6A football crazed town on his shoulders was more concerned about the mistakes made. That’d be a common theme on the year.
Two big losses to Weslaco East and McAllen Memorial followed and many felt the ’Hounds had crashed back to earth.
But a solid district-opening win over Hanna was followed by a gritty 17-14 home win over Los Fresnos.
Then the comeback that’ll be talked about forever: Down 21-3 with eight minutes left in the contest, the ’Hounds furiously scored 22 points, including the winning score after an onside kick with under a minute left, to prevail 25-21. The crystal ball was back at SBHS and no one will ever forget the magic on October 10.
The next week, the Madden playbook was open as San Benito beat Brownsville Veterans 67-57 thanks to a school-record 883 total yards and 337 rushing from Vasquez, believed to be a San Benito record.
After a Homecoming win over Lopez, the ’Hounds were nipped by the injury bug and did not finish the season the way they’d have liked, dropping their final two games to split the title four ways before falling to the Wildcats in bi-district.
But all that aside, this year was about redemption, respect, re-establishment and resiliency. Most of all, pride. It was the great Tommy Roberts who always said, “Pride makes the difference.” That was the case this year, and it was a great thing.
To athletic coordinator Ram Partida and the Greyhound varsity staff: Thanks for the great access all season.
To the players: Thank you for a great year and for always showing an old reporter respect.
To the up-and-coming Greyhounds: You most certainly have big shoes to fill.
And most of us can’t wait to be along for the ride.