RIO HONDO — Every now and again, a special group of talent comes through a sports program.
Last season the Rio Hondo Bobcats’ defense was a seasoned group while the offense was young, but led by a star quarterback in Tyler Bush. Fast-forward to 2017, the tables have turned. It’s now the offense with a bevy of experience and talent while the young defense is looking to hit its stride.
The Bobcats wrapped up 2016 at 7-4 overall and 4-1 in district play. The offense averaged 36 points per game while scoring 50 points or more in three of those games. Rio Hondo’s district run ended in a tie with Orange Grove and Port Isabel with the Bobcats drawing the top seed, drawing Sinton in the bi-district round. Rio Hondo wound up falling 30-29 to the Pirates.
Offensively, the Cats return multiple skill positions led by their signal caller Bush, followed by junior running back Danny Vasquez and wide receivers Erik Pizarro, Frank Hernandez and Jose Alas Meza. Rio Hondo has four members of the offensive line returning anchored by senior center Jake Martinez. Ty Rhyner, Sabino Davila and Ric Serna will also return to the O-line.
“We’re all excited to get back out here. The season really never ended for the O-line, we have been working out all summer,” said Martinez. “Our offseason was very important; we added some workouts from conditioning to foot work. Last season, I was first team all-district center and I’m looking forward to my senior season, and hoping I can have another solid year.”
QUICK HITS: Bush threw for 2,097 yards with 29 touchdowns to only 12 interceptions. The duel-threat QB also rushed for 563 yards and rushed for three scores. Bush took a step forward over the summer with the Bobcats’ march to the state 7on7 tournament. Bush showed command of the huddle, pin-point accuracy and was on page with his receiving core.
Pizzaro returns as Bush’s go-to target. The senior wide out hauled in a team-high 43 receptions, 794 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2016.
Vasquez is set to be a junior this season. Built like a wide receiver but with strong hands and the ability to break tackles and make the cut, Vasquez will not only be a threat out of the backfield but in the passing game as well. The junior rushed for 1,050 yards on 148 carries while sniffing the end zone nine times.
“Last season we lost in the first round; this year we have our goals set high,” said Bush. “We want to win district and make a run in the playoffs. I’m ready for my senior season; coming out here on Monday was intense because everybody was ready to get to work. Right now, we’re just trying to get our minds right and prepare for our first scrimmage.”
Rio Hondo will kick off its season with a scrimmage Aug. 17 at home against Edcouch-Elsa.
Bobcats secondary looks to guide young defense
Heading into 2017, the question was what to make of the Bobcats’ defense. With the offense returning a majority of its starters, it’s the young Bobcat defense that will be challenged.
In 2016, Brett Esparza’s defense was one of the stingiest in the Valley, yielding 21 points per game.
This year’s club returns three starters, including junior Josiah Ortega who will patrol the secondary as a safety, followed by a pair of seniors in Ruben Hernandez and Troy Macias.
“Last year I played corner most of the time. Honestly, I’ve played safety before my freshman year so I feel comfortable at the position,” said Hernandez. “It’s nothing new to me. I’m ready to help out the younger guys learn the system and get them up to speed.”
Although the defense may be young, the secondary will be the stronghold for Esparza’s defense.
“Defensively we have a lot of young guys,” said Rio Hondo head coach Rocky James. “We have had success at the freshman and JV levels, so we have plenty of good football players going through our program so I don’t really see a letdown.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Safety/corner: Ruben Hernandez. The 5-11 senior will swap time from safety to corner. Hernandez has the strength and size to line up against a team’s number one wide out. Hernandez finished 2016 with four interceptions which was second best on the team.
Joey Ortega will fill in at the middle linebacker position, Ortega’s brother is current safety Josiah Ortega. Zeke Guerrero will play opposite side of Hernandez at cornerback. Junior Justin Flores will also look to make an impact at defensive end this season.