Hawks, area high school football teams take to gridiron

Harlingen South Hawks football players, above, listen to coach Brian Ricci on Monday at South’s mini-stadium. It was the first day of practice for Texas high school football teams that did not take part in spring football. Hawks players, below, go through drills. PHOTOS BY RICK KELLEY/VALLEY MORNING STAR

Day 1 of a new football season began Monday for the Harlingen South Hawks and many other high school teams throughout the state.

As per UIL rules, teams not playing spring ball could start practicing with non-contact drills and wear helmets, but no pads. The pads will be added Saturday with intrasquad scrimmages scheduled.

The teams that played spring ball open practice next Monday.

It was a lively Monday morning at the South mini-stadium as approximately 150 varsity and junior varsity players participated in conditioning drills.

Seeing so many players on hand for the first day of practice was a pleasant sight for South coach Brian Ricci, who is entering his fourth season at the helm for the Hawks.

“We had a lot of players show up, which is good,” said Ricci, whose Hawks are coming off a 4-7 season with their first trip to the playoffs since 2013. “Obviously, there’s a lot of paperwork, and we had to make sure everybody was cleared to go (practice). That took us a little longer, but I’m happy with the turnout and with the way we practiced. We look forward to the season.”

Among those eager to take part in the first practice was South quarterback David Torres, a senior who is beginning his third season as the team’s starter.

“This is exciting,” said Torres, a 5-foot-6, 160-pounder. “It was hard to sleep last night just thinking about it. I woke up, ate breakfast and came out here extra early. I’m excited for my senior year with my teammates and coaches, and I’m confident to go out there (and perform well).

“We have some sophomores who have been playing a long time since they were little and we have a good senior group, so I’m excited,” Torres added. “The seniors are teaching them the way to play on varsity. I want us to go 10-0 and be District (32-6A) champs, but you’ve got to prepare for each game and take it one game at a time, plus have the mindset to come out with the victory.”

Also displaying a lot of enthusiasm for the start of workouts was senior teammate Jacob Huerta, a 5-10, 250-pound defensive lineman who has started three years as well.

“It feels amazing (to have practice start),” Huerta said. “I’ve been playing football since I was little, and I’ve been working my butt off all summer, so I’m ready for the season.

“I think our potential is pretty good,” Huerta added. “We have some really good players coming up to the varsity along with some experienced players already on the varsity. I think we’re going to come back really well this season.

“Some people are saying one of South’s weak spots is the defense. I believe that’s wrong, and that we can do a lot of good things and we’ll have a strong defense this year. We want to get back to the playoffs and go deeper to make the South fans proud. I would just say the South Hawks are coming (so watch out).”

Besides the Hawks pursuing back-to-back playoff trips, there are many other story lines to follow in Cameron County this football season.

Among them are the Brownsville Hanna Golden Eagles and La Feria Lions, each of whom will be trying to defend district championships. Last season, Hanna went 10-2 overall and won District 32-6A with a 5-0 record. Also one year ago, La Feria finished 11-2 overall with a 4-0 showing in District 16-4A Division I.

Both teams advanced three rounds in the playoffs in 2018, a feat they would like to equal or surpass this season.

Hanna coach Mark Guess was pleased with the turnout of approximately 100 players to Monday morning’s workout.

“I was satisfied to see the effort given by the athletes,” Guess said. “Actually, scheme-wise, we’re ahead of where we were at this point last year. We’re expecting to pick up our numbers as we get closer to the start of school.”

La Feria coach Oscar Salinas had a lot of positives to say about his group after the first workout.

“We had a great day,” Salinas said. “The players came in in good shape and ready for another season. We had 130 players from freshmen to seniors.”

The Port Isabel Tarpons welcomed approximately 100 players to the team’s first practice.

“It was a solid opening day of training camp for the Tarpons,” said coach Jason Strunk, who is beginning his second season guiding Port Isabel. “It’s amazing what a year can do. We hit the ground running this morning. The players know the routine. They know the plays. They know the schemes. They understand our nutrition expectations.

“A year into this and we are off and running,” Strunk added. “We had roughly 100 players on the field today, which is a good way to start. We know we are missing some. They will be here tomorrow.

“The first day was a good one. We’ll be back at it (today) at 6 a.m. We need to get better (today) and every day following.”