Bearkats kick off 2020 football campaign

RAYMONDVILLE — The sun came out just in time to help members of the Raymondville football program work up a sweat during their first practice in six months.

The Bearkats became the first Rio Grande Valley team to hit the gridiron in preparation for the 2020 season as they opened up strength and conditioning Friday. Though things were operated a bit different than in years past, coaches and athletes said it was great to get back in the swing of things.

“It felt a little like we were back to normal, and it was good to see the guys. We hadn’t seen a lot of our kids at all (since March),” Raymondville coach and athletic director Frank Cantu said. “I’m real pleased with the young men. We’re just very thankful (Willacy County health authority Mario Sanchez) and our school board allowed us to do this, and for giving our kids the opportunity to come out and participate with what the rest of the state is already doing. Maybe this will encourage some other schools around if it’s done successfully.”

Athletes had their temperatures checked and were asked if they’ve been experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms — listed on a large sign just outside the stadium gates — upon arrival. They were issued a water bottle and a blue and gold gaiter for personal use before hitting the field, which was marked off in accordance with social distancing.

Bearkats coach Uvaldo Zamora led the stretching and exercise portion that started the workouts, and Rene Secrest closed it out with some running drills. Cantu said they didn’t want to challenge the athletes too much on Day 1, but he was happy with how the Bearkats held up.

“We did what we considered to be a light workout, to be safe and, more than anything, to see how the protocols are working and if we can improve anything,” Cantu said. “I was pleasantly surprised that these kids stayed in shape. We’ve been doing some stuff online with Zoom, but seeing them in person, it was a nice surprise.”

Senior wide receiver/running back ZaRaivion Armendarez said it felt weird to be working in a group instead of on his own after so much time away, but he was happy to be back with his team, even if things are run in a new way.

“It feels weird being spread apart and not starting with weights, usually we start by lifting weights, but I think our coaches put a pretty good procedure together and we just have to get used to it,” Armendarez said. “It’s been a long wait, all of us have been wanting to get back, so it feels good to get back to normal things and get ready for the season. (I’m looking forward to) just being able to play. It’s going to be fun.”

Wide receiver Nathan Mungia agreed that things felt a little weird in the “new normal,” but he said it felt good to be back on the field. The junior said the Bearkats are committed to following protocols to protect themselves, their families and their season — one he believes will result in another playoff appearance since they got a head start on District 16-4A Division II opponents Port Isabel and Rio Hondo.

“Seeing all the coaches, all my teammates, all my brothers, it felt good because it’s been a long time,” Mungia said. “It feels different, but we have to get used to it because at the end of the day we have to be safe to keep our season going so we can go deep in the playoffs. Every day we come out here, we have to make the most of it because we don’t know if we’ll be here the next day. Just have to work hard every day.”