Purple Passion: Greyhounds ready for bi-district battle

San Benito defensive end Gabriel Sandoval, left, and quarterback Elijah Hernandez, pictured after practice Wednesday at Bobby Morrow Stadium, are ready to lead the Greyhounds in their Class 6A bi-district playoff game against the Mission High Eagles.

SAN BENITO — Brotherhood and a team-first mentality is at the heart of the continued success the San Benito Greyhounds have earned on the gridiron.

Greyhounds coaches and players alike consistently say there isn’t one guy that makes the team, but rather it’s the whole team putting in a unified effort that makes every individual better. Playing passionate team football is the main focus for San Benito as it prepares to battle the Mission High Eagles in the Class 6A bi-district round at 7 p.m. Friday at Tom Landry Stadium.

“It’s been two weeks since we’ve been on the football field, so the guys are ready to go,” San Benito coach Dan Gomez said. “The message isn’t going to change. It makes an individual look good when you can get all 11 guys doing the same thing. We ask our kids to go out there and take advantage of the opportunities they have to play football. They play with a lot of passion, and that’s what we ask them to do, to go out there and show the passion they play with and the pride they play with.”

Senior quarterback Elijah Hernandez takes pride in earning the right to lead the Greyhounds’ offense. He stepped into some big shoes under center, and it wasn’t an easy task with only three offensive starters returning.

“I was the backup last year to Smiley Silva, who was a great quarterback for San Benito, and now it’s my time. It was a quick jump and there’s a lot of pressure, but pressure is privilege,” Hernandez said.

San Benito’s offense faced additional adversity after losing star running back Kyler Castilleja for the season due to an injury. Gomez said the injury ignited “more chemistry and more togetherness on the team because they want to pull together and do good for that individual.” Hernandez stepped up and has shown speed and elusiveness to anchor the run game. Sophomore Nova Bejaran and freshman Fabian Garcia have done well splitting carries in the backfield.

Hernandez’s arm has been effective, too. He has a strong connection with senior receiver Justyn Martinez, and said he also has trust in senior receiver Cristian Alvarado and junior athlete Jermaine Corbin to haul in what he sends their way. The quarterback believes the Greyhounds can move on to the second round if they “play like brothers and have each other’s backs.”

“We obviously do miss Kyler, the guy was a big part of our offense, but our backups are good and they fill in the spot correctly, and we still have a pretty good run game,” Hernandez said. “I know we don’t pass as much, but when we hit it, we’re on target. We feel confident in (our passing game). Our coaches have been studying a lot of film with us, going over the pressure that they bring. They’re a good team, they have a good defense and a good offense, too. It’s going to be a battle from the first quarter to the fourth quarter. We’re ready to go.”

Senior defensive end Gabriel Sandoval said the Greyhounds have been watching a lot of film with defensive coordinator Johnny Garza and that they feel ready to take on the high-flying Eagles offense. San Benito returned eight defensive starters from last year’s area finalist team, and Sandoval said the veterans have been instrumental in building the unit’s chemistry.

Sandoval and the senior trio of linebacker Aaron Reyes and defensive backs Leonel Fuentes and Michael Banda have been some of the top contributors on San Benito’s stout defense, which is allowing just 17.8 points per game.

“It’s not just one guy, it’s all 11 on that side that helps us a lot,” Sandoval said. “From underclassmen to our seniors, they’re all doing a phenomenal job. We play as one unit, that’s how it is. Our bond has been really good. We really trust (the underclassmen) to help us out, and without them we wouldn’t be where we are right now. They help contribute just like everybody else does.”

Sandoval said he feels some nerves heading into Friday’s game, knowing it could be his last, but like Hernandez, he believes if the Greyhounds “come out as brothers” like they do every game, they’ll be all right.

Though there won’t be a big crowd in attendance due to Mission CISD’s strict COVID-19 protocols, the Greyhounds aren’t worried about bringing the energy. Hernandez and Sandoval said the team is fired up after having two weeks to prepare, and Gomez knows his coaching staff has the players ready for battle.

“We’re definitely going to see a game that’s going to go four quarters, maybe even five,” Gomez said. “They’re coached very well and they’ve got some good players with some experience. We know what we’re getting ourselves into, so we’ve prepared the best that we can and we’re ready to go out and play on Friday night.”