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Patriots prepare for new season, new district and new rivals

20140731 VMHS Football Key Players lg-01For the past two seasons, the Mission High School (MHS) Eagles and the Veterans Memorial High School (VMHS) Patriots football teams have been district rivals. However, after the University Interscholastic League’s (UIL’s) most recent re-alignment, that is no longer the case. MHS up to District 30-6A and VMHS to District 31-5A. Despite this being a non-district game, the inter-city rivalry between the Eagles and Patriots will fuel the two teams’ intensity and desire to win.

While the Eagles do hold an advantage over the Patriots in their overall series record, for the past four seasons the series is split 2-2. With MHS taking the most recent match-up by a score of 44-16, the Patriots will be out for revenge when they take to the field against the Eagles in both teams’ non-district openers Aug. 29.

Adding to the significance of this inter-city face-off, this will be the first athletic event of any kind to be played on Tom Landry Stadium’s new artificial turf. And that new turf features the National Football League Hall of Fame logo on it in honor of Mission native and former Dallas Cowboys head football coach Tom Landry.

VMHS head football coach David Gilpin shared what it means to have the Patriots be one of the first two teams to play on the new turf.

“Opening our brand new field turf at Tom Landry Stadium with the two Mission schools at our home stadium on it is exciting. That’s the way it should be. Also, from what I understand, members of the Landry family have been invited to attend this game and if any of them are able to make it that would be very appropriate as well. Tom Landry is my all-time favorite coach – so much so that I named my son Landry after him.”

While the Eagles’ game will be big in many ways, Gilpin is the first to admit that non-district games are meant to prepare his team for district competition. With that in mind, he has always strived to fill his squad’s non-district schedule with opponents that will put his players to the test. Eight days after the Eagles game, the Patriots will be traveling to Odessa to play the Odessa Permian High Panthers. The six-time state champion Panthers are best known as the team that inspired the book and subsequent movie, “Friday Night Lights.”

“We reached out to Odessa Permian and asked them if they wanted to play us,” explained Gilpin. “So we want to test ourselves. All of our kids have seen that movie and I loved the book and I love the passion that town has for high school football. Going up against a six-time state champion team in a very storied stadium is something that our kids are going to be able to take with them the rest of their lives.”

The Patriots’ other two non-district games will be against the La Joya Juarez-Lincoln Huskies (Sept. 12) and the Pharr San-Juan Alamo North Raiders (Sept. 19) – both 6A teams.

After a bye week, the Patriots will be opening district play at home against Sharyland High School (Oct. 3). With the opening of the new Sharyland Pioneer High School, SHS has been reclassified as a 5A school (previously known as 4A). So the Rattlers, the Sharyland Pioneer Diamondbacks and the Patriots are now all members of District 31-5A.

“As for our district, there have been some major changes,” shared Gilpin. “In the Rattlers you have a team that for the past two to three years has been probably the best football team in the Rio Grande Valley and one of the better teams in the region at the 5A level. You take a team like that and plop it into your district and all of a sudden you have your hands full. They’re extremely talented in the skill positions so I really don’t even want to think about Sharyland at this point until we get there.”

To have success against the Rattlers, as well as his team’s other district rivals, Gilpin will be relying heavily on his eight returning starters – four on offense and four on defense. Quarterback Santos Villarreal (sr.), running back John Garcia (sr.) and wide receivers Bobby Tovar (jr.) and Roman de Leon (soph.) will be on the offensive side of the ball, while linebackers Adrian Flores (sr.) and Joel Mares (jr.), defensive lineman Albert Garcia (sr.) and defensive back Kevin Liebano (jr.) will be on the defensive side.

Other key players the Patriots will be counting on this season, even though they are newcomers to the varsity squad, are sophomore Adam Solis (WR/QB/DB), junior Edgar Villarreal (DL), junior Marco Mendiola (LB), junior Hugo Cabrera (LB) and junior Danny Munguia (OL).

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