This article originally appeared in the Friday Aug. 16, 2019 issue of the Progress Times.
It’s been a few years but it appears the Mission Eagles are back . . . lots of them in fact.
The Eagles return eight starters on offense and six on defense as the 2019 football season gets underway. Included in that group are a number of players who received All-District honors last year.
The vast majority of those players are on the offensive side of the ball. Sophomore quarterback Jeremy Duran was the district Offensive Newcomer of the Year. Fullback Andrew Maldonado (Jr.), tight end Rey Garcia (Sr.), and guard Steven Alvarez (Sr.) were first team selections. Receiver Steve Villarreal (Sr.), running back Horacio Moronta (Sr.) and center Lyvan Rodriguez (Sr.) made the second team.
Defensively, the Eagles return two district second team selections in defensive end Fabian Ahumada (Sr.) and safety Ivan Chavez (Jr.). Linebacker Justin Soto (Jr.) was one of three players chosen as district Defensive Newcomer of the Year.
Overall the Eagles were 8-3 last season and their 5-2 mark in district play put them in a three-way tie for second place. That ended a five year post season drought. Laredo United eliminated the Eagles in the first round of the UIL 6A Div. I playoffs to end their season.
The Eagles also won the Battle of Conway, their annual rivalry game against Mission Veterans. That hadn’t happened since 2013.
Fourth year head coach Koy Detmer reflected on the success of 2018.
“We (coaches and players) felt like we were ready to take a step,” said Detmer. “This past year for us we felt like those were things we could accomplish.”
The results of last season have already played a role this year too.
“It (that success) rolled into the offseason,” said Detmer. “There has been good energy. There has been a positive atmosphere around here. The first week (of practice) was good, the kids came in excited. It was a good first week. We got a lot of things accomplished.”
Many of the players sensed it too.
“There’s a lot of team chemistry, a lot of bonds” said Alvarez. “We know we can have a good season because everyone is together as one unit . . . one heartbeat.”
Having so many familiar faces around has helped that chemistry.
“We have players on both sides of the ball back so we know that chemistry is there,” said Chavez. “The defensive line knows we (the secondary) have their back.”
Duran feels it on the offensive side of the ball too. “We have a great bond. The timing (with the receivers) is still there. (So is) the communication with the offensive line,” said Duran.
As a freshman, Duran was put to the test early and often last season when the team’s starting quarterback went down with an injury. Not a problem for someone who has been playing the position since he was about 6 years old.
“I had a lot of confidence from practice, but that’s different from games,” said Duran. “My first play on varsity I threw a little duckish pass but it got there. It got my hopes really high. It gave me confidence that I can deal with these guys.”
Detmer saw it too in a non-district game against Sharyland Pioneer.
“He was really good,” said Detmer. “That game really told you a lot about him. (Our) coaches, the team, the players, felt confident in him that if he did have to come in and play at any point he was going to be able to handle whatever came his way.”
Duran eventually became the starter, helping the team win their last three regular season games to qualify for the post season.
The young quarterback probably won’t have to carry the team by himself. Moronta returns as the team’s top rusher from 2018. He also had the most receptions from among the returning corps of receivers.
So what should fans expect in 2019?
“Our expectations and our goals probably exceed what anybody else would put out there,” said Detmer. “We set those standards and expectations and we talk about that as a team. One of the things that will be a big deal for us in our success this year is we have to eliminate the outside distractions. It’s great that people recognize what you have accomplished. But we have to eliminate that and focus on what our job is and what our standards and expectations are. We can’t allow someone else to set those.”
Ahumada echoed those same sentiments.
“The standards are set high this year,” he said. “We’re going to try and surpass those standards.”
Detmer concluded his remarks with his thoughts on the 2019 District 30-6A schedule.
“Anybody will tell you, in our district, every week is a battle. It’s a challenge. There are no games where you can go in like OK we’re going to take care of business on this one. They are all tough games and if you’re not right or nicked up you can go out and get beat in any one of them. You have to play well every week.”
“That’s our message,” said Detmer. “We’re excited (about the experience coming back). It will only play out for us if we continue to go through the process the right way.”
Mission is scheduled to scrimmage Los Fresnos tonight at Los Fresnos and will host Mercedes in another scrimmage Thursday, August 22. Both are scheduled to begin at 7 pm.
The Eagles open the regular season at Mission Veterans on Friday, August 30 and open district play on Friday, September 27 when they play host to McAllen Memorial.