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20121026 Football VeteransMemorial vs Mission lg-22Patriots' ball carrier Victor Meza (24) gets upended by the Eagles' Nick Garza (3) as fellow Eagles Adonis Juarez (22), Sabas Garcia (55), Erick Flores (13) and Ulises Moreno (27) look on. Progress Times photo by Luciano GuerraFor as long as most Mission residents can remember, Mission High School’s football team has been known as the Mighty Mission Eagles. As is the case with all sports teams, there are good years and there are bad years and while the Eagles have certainly suffered through some bad years, they remained the Mighty Mission Eagles to their fans regardless of their win-loss records.

Entering Week 9 of the 2012 Valley high school football season, the 8-0 Eagles are mighty in every sense of the word. They have faced every challenge put before them and they have emerged victorious each and every time. From defeating 5A schools in non-district action to having scored more points and given up less points than any other team in 32-4A, Mission is playing at a level few high school football teams ever achieve.

With only two games left in their regular season, Mission traveled to PSJA Southwest to play the 2-6 Javelinas last night (Nov. 1). If all went as planned against the last place Javelinas, Coach Mario Peña’s Eagles will be 9-0 as they prepare for what could be their toughest challenge of the year thus far, next Thursday night’s (Nov. 9) game against the Mercedes Tigers.

As a result of their 42-0 victory over the Veterans Memorial Patriots last week, the Eagles have already accomplished the first of three goals Peña set for his team this season, making the playoffs. Winning the district title and having an undefeated, both of which are still well within Mission’s reach, are the other two.

Regardless of the outcome of last night’s game, Mission has really turned things around from last year. After winning their first two games in 2011, the Eagles went on to lose eight in a row and finished the season with a 2-8 overall record and went winless in district play.

As for what accounts for such a dramatic turnaround in just one year, Peña credits three intangibles he and his staff have focused on this season. First is leadership.

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“During the off-season I evaluated our 2011 season and I came to realize that there were three things that we needed to focus on and change,” said Peña. “One was a lack of leadership. I told my coaches that we needed community leadership and leaders are not born, they’re made. I didn’t want to depend on the captains, I didn’t want to depend on the seniors, even though we say that this is your ball club, I needed a community of leaders stepping up to the plate.”

Peña’s second key to turning his team around from last year is a refusal to accept less than every player’s best effort.

“The second thing I told my coaches is that we need to make sure that we do not accept mediocrity,” said Peña. “When we line up we need to line up to win, not to be competitive. If we’re practicing and somebody is slacking off, then I need for somebody to get on them and not the coaches. That’s not meant to tear somebody down, it’s meant to learn how to practice to win.”

The third thing that Peña has had his coaching staff and his players focus on this season is the right mindset.

The team also focused on “learning how to get mentally prepared for a game and being ready to play,” said Peña. “I’ve always told my players right before a game we’ve got to know how to flip on that internal switch so that we’ll be focused and ready. Those are the three things that I’m seeing have changed since last year.”

During his 34 years of coaching at La Joya, Edinburg North, Sharyland, San Benito and Mission, Peña has always been a defensive specialist. Even as the Eagles’ head coach and athletic coordinator since 2009, Peña still calls the defensive plays from the sidelines.

Much of the Eagles’ success this year can be attributed to the play of their defensive unit. The fact that Peña has his team’s defense at the very top of the Valley rankings comes as no surprise to Veterans Memorial head coach David Gilpin.

“Two good words to describe the Eagles defense are aggressive and dominating,” said Gilpin. “They’re the #1 defense in the Valley right now. They are a pressure defense. Coach Peña does a great job of teaching his defense to his kids. He’s a proven defensive coordinator/head coach. He’s a proven winner.”

Defensive standouts for the Eagles this season include linebackers Alberto Roque, Erick Flores and Adonis Juarez, defensive backs George Gonzalez, Nick Garza and Sergio Guerrero, and defensive linemen Steven Cavazos, Sabas Garcia and Andrik Tijerina.

As big a part as Mission’s defense has played in their success this year, it’s not as if the Eagles’ offense has taken the season off. Entering last night’s game against PSJA Southwest, Mission has put an average of 30-plus points on the scoreboard per game. Seniors Juan Rios (QB), Sergio Guerrero (WR) and Randy De La Garza (RB), junior Michael Ruiz (WR) and sophomore Robert Veliz (WR) have been the main weapons in Mission’s offensive attack all year.

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