Coyotes prowling for the playoffs

The La Joya Coyotes’ 2014/2015 football season was one for the record books. By winning the final three games of their regular season they became the first Coyotes team since the three-way split of La Joya High in 2008 to finishing district play with a .500 record or better and the first since the split to qualify for the playoffs.

After dropping their first three District 30-6A games of the season, the 2014 Coyotes salvaged their season with wins over Mission, Nikki Rowe and Juarez-Lincoln to clinch the fourth seed in the district and punch their ticket into the playoffs. While a bi-district round loss to the Laredo United Longhorns did bring their playoff run to an end posthaste, the Coyotes took a definite step in the right direction last season and are now looking to build on that success this year.

20150815 LJHS Football Team Individuals lg 02So what’s it going to take for the 2015 Coyotes to repeat, or possibly even surpass, last year’s success? La Joya head football coach George Espinoza believes he has the answer.

“First and foremost we need to stay healthy,” said Espinoza. “We had a young team last year and I think that the key for us this year is the experience that we’ll be bringing on both sides of the ball. Our numbers are definitely better this year than they were last so that will help.”

The “numbers” Espinoza referred to is the number of kids that come out for the football team. Last year the Coyotes had 48 players on the varsity roster. As of a week ago 64 had come out for this year’s team with more expected to sign up before the start of school.

One of the Coyotes’ returning starters is senior wide receiver J.C. Maldonado. When asked what personal, as well as team, goals he has set for this year Maldonado said, “Our main goal is to be district champions. Another goal is to go three rounds deep into the playoffs. Personally I just want to stay on top. I want to be the best receiver in the Valley and do all I can to help my team win.”

While senior free safety Gabriel Rios likes his team’s chances of making a return trip to the playoffs this year, he shared what being part of the 2014 Coyotes’ team meant to him.

“To be part of the first playoff team since the split meant a lot to me,” shared Rios. “It’s a memory that I’m always going to have. Hopefully this year we can make it again.”

Like Maldonado and Rios, senior running back Justin Leanos is entering his third year on the La Joya varsity. If the Coyotes are going to extend their season into the playoffs once again this year, his on-field play and his leadership abilities will be key.

“It’s going to take teamwork and all of us being on the same page for this team to make a return trip to the playoffs,” Leanos said. “Personally all I care about is us making it deeper into the playoffs than we did last year.”

La Joya will be opening its non-district schedule next Friday at Roma against the Gladiators. The Coyotes will then play three consecutive Thursday night games against Donna North and Edinburg Vela, both at home, and at Weslaco East. La Joya will then open its District 30-6A schedule at McAllen Memorial Friday, September 25.

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