There’s another gold football inside the Veterans Memorial Patriots trophy case. It’s a bi-district championship ball that the 2014/2015 Patriots’ football team earned as a result of their 17-14 win over the Donna Redskins.
By claiming a bi-district championship and advancing into the second round of the playoffs the 2014 Patriots accomplished something that only the 2010 Veterans Memorial football team had ever accomplished over the school’s 11 year history. As impressive a feat as that was, it wasn’t quite up to the standard Coach David Gilpin has been striving to establish over his six-year tenure as the Patriots head coach.
“We did have a very good season last year,” Gilpin said. “Was it great? Are we satisfied with what we accomplished? No but we were 8 – 4 and the four losses came to teams like Edinburg Vela, who made it into the second round of the playoffs, and third round playoff teams like Sharyland, Flour Bluff and Odessa Permian.”
“Our ultimate goal is not to say that we lost to a very good team,” added Gilpin. “Ultimately our goal is to begin picking some of those teams off. But in defense of last year’s team and the job those kids and our coaching staff here did, the bottom line is that we put a gold football in our trophy case and those kids left here as champions.”
If the 2015 Patriots are going to achieve the goal of picking off the kind of teams they’ve lost to in the past, they are going to need two players in particular to lead the way – senior inside linebacker Hugo Cabrera and junior quarterback Diego Hernandez.
Cabrera, whose 197 tackles last year earned him First Team All-State honors, is the kind of player any coach would love to have on his team.
“Hugo has a nose for the football,” shared Gilpin. “He’s not a big guy, maybe 5 foot 8 or so, but he’s strong as an ox. He doesn’t say much but he goes out and makes plays on Friday nights. He’s a true, true warrior.”
With the Patriots being one of the pre-season picks to contend for the District 31-5A title, Cabrera is anxious to help his team achieve its full potential.
“That’s something that we want to live up to and we trust our coaches to get us there,” said Cabrera. ”I just want our team to succeed and for us to go as deep as we can into the playoffs. For that to happen we have to trust each other, have everybody do their jobs and play as a team.”
With the unenviable task of replacing Santos Villarreal, the Patriots’ starting quarterback for the past three seasons, Hernandez has his work cut out for him. However the fact that he has his head coach’s complete confidence should make that difficult task much easier to achieve.
“I expect no drop-off with Diego at quarterback,” expressed Gilpin. “I expect him to continue the tradition of what our quarterbacks have done here at Veterans Memorial. Santos was a great quarterback, and I miss him already, but we feel that Diego is capable of filling his shoes and keep us right on rolling.”
While Hernandez himself does not put much stock in pre-season hype and prognostications, he does have his sights set on a district championship.
“Our goal is to take the district title but it’s going to take all of us working hard and playing as a unit to achieve that goal,” shared the 6 foot 2 junior signal caller. “We’re not looking at the pre-season predictions but I know that we’ve been working hard and we’ve come a long way from last year. We have our eyes set on the title and trying to get to the big dance.”
With Veterans Memorials’ two district losses last year coming at the hands of the Sharyland Rattlers and the Edinburg Vela Sabercats, two of the teams that along with the Patriots are expected to finish at or near the top of the standings, Hernandez is using the memory of those losses to motivate him this year.
“There’s nothing good about walking home or getting on the bus ride home after a loss,” expressed Hernandez. “It leaves a bitter taste in your mouth. So much so that in the off-season when you go into the weight room or you’re working out you have those losses in the back of your head and you’re trying to find a way to get better so those losses are not losses this season.”
The Patriots will be hosting the Mission Eagles August 28 in both teams’ non-district opener and will be opening their District 31-5A schedule at Sharyland High October 2.