At this time last year the doors at Sharyland Pioneer High School had not yet opened and the Diamondbacks football team was preparing for their inaugural season. With only a handful of seniors on the roster and with what was sure to be a long season ahead of them, version 1.0 of the Diamondbacks was about ready to be introduced as part of the newly formed but talent-laden District 31-5A.
With perennial powerhouses such as the Sharyland Rattlers and the Veterans Memorial Patriots in the district and with the up-and-coming Edinburg Vela Sabercats set to have a breakout season in the mix as well, Diamondbacks head coach Jason Wheeler knew that he’d have his work cut out for him if his first-year team was going to have any kind of success at all.
Even so, the Diamondbacks did turn a few heads as they opened their non-district schedule with wins over Hidalgo and Brownsville Pace and then opened their district schedule with a win over Valley View. However their youth, inexperience and lack of depth eventually caught up with them as they went winless over their final five games to close-out the season with a 3-7 record.
“We were delayed getting into our new facilities last year and we weren’t able to use our weight room much the first part of the season,” explained Wheeler. “We also didn’t have a set schedule as to when we could use our field here for probably the first six weeks of the year. But now with all our facilities set, which allowed us to have a good spring session, and with the kids now having basically a full year of experience at the varsity level and a full year in the weight room and on the track, I feel a lot better going into this year in regards to our strength and our speed.”
“The fact that last year we had basically all first-year varsity players, except for maybe one or two, became apparent as the season progressed,” added Wheeler. “I’m excited about this year and I know that the kids have more confidence, which I saw in our spring game last year, and that makes me excited for the future here at Pioneer.”
Wheeler went on to explain that while he is expecting to carry 40 – 44 seniors on the roster this year only half of them will be starters; the other half will be sophomores and juniors.
“We have a lot more depth this year and a lot more competition for the starting positions,” Wheeler said. “That usually brings out the best in the kids when they know that they have to fight for their playing time. A lot of our seniors will help out tremendously and some of them will surely help our special teams as well. I am expecting to carry close to 70 kids on our varsity, compared to 55 last year, so having that additional depth will help in a tough district such as ours especially when you suffer injuries during the year.”
One of the factors used to predict how successful a football team will be from one year to the next is the number of returning starters on its roster. As a general rule, the higher the number of returning starters a team has the better the chances are of that team having a successful season. However in the Diamondbacks’ case that may not be a good indicator due to the fact that they had so few seniors on their roster last year.
“We will have about 20 returning starters but the funny story about that is a few of those kids were actually passed up in spring ball by younger kids,” shared Wheeler. “Our freshmen were very talented last year, they were 8 – 2, so we’re probably going to carry about eight of those sophomores on our varsity and I’m not going to carry a sophomore on our varsity and not play him. I think that they’re physically and mentally ready to step up to the varsity level because they really showed what they could do in the spring when we threw them all together and we evaluated them going up against the varsity.”
As for what goals he has set for his team this year Wheeler said, “We definitely want to improve over what we did last year. I think it’s very realistic for us to have a winning season and then our goal will be to get into the playoffs. And with our young talent I think that next year and the year after that we could compete for a district championship. But we’ve got to start somewhere and one of the things I’ve talked to the kids about is earning some respect out there. So if we can have some fun and earn some respect this year I think we’ll be in the playoffs.”
Pioneer will open its non-district schedule at home against Hidalgo Friday Aug. 28 and play its district opener at Valley View Friday Sept. 25. All of the Diamondbacks’ home games are scheduled to be played at Richard Thompson Stadium.