FOOTBALL: Central Catholic shines, Edison surprises at 7-on-7 tourney

McCollum wins Frontier Bowl preview

Photo courtesy of Rene DeLeon. 


Participants in the JDLA Sports 7-on-7 league from five area schools.
Participants in the JDLA Sports 7-on-7 league from five area schools.




To the uninitiated, a 7-on-7 football tournament such as the one JDLA Sports hosted over the last few weeks at Highlands High School, might seem akin to playing softball to prepare for baseball season.

Participants, though, understand the value of spending five weeks in the summer honing the timing and execution that is essential in the high school game today. On June 24, as four area teams battled for placing as the third-annual league wound down, it was easy to see why the passing game has become the devastating weapon it has developed into over the last decade.

“It definitely helps with speed and agility,” explained senior receiver-defensive back Jaime Nava, who helped Central Catholic win the tournament. “It’s a lot different without pads, but it helps us get a feel for the game.”

The Buttons scored the last 13 points to defeat surprising Edison 40-27 in the championship game. McCollum came back to nip rival Harlandale 16-14 for third place. Highlands also competed in the league, but finished its season with what was effectively an intrasquad scrimmage.

Earlier in the evening, the other four teams had played their final league games to determine seeding for the tournament. Edison defeated McCollum and Central Catholic came from behind to defeat Harlandale.

“My goal is to get more and more teams (involved),” said Rene DeLuna, who founded the league to give area teams a local alternative to the UIL 7-on-7 circuit. DeLuna also has served as Highlands’ coach each season.

“My (main) priority is the southside. For years, these schools could only enter one-day tournaments. That’s why I got this idea, when my son Jordan was a sophomore, to give teams a chance to stay local.”

Jordan DeLuna graduated this spring as a three-year starting quarterback for the Owls, but his father intends to keep the league going indefinitely. The first two years, and the first week of this season, games were played at the SAISD Complex. They were shifted to Highlands because of construction.

He’d also like to launch a national 7-on-7 tournament.

For Central Catholic, the league provided a chance to hit the ground running with a relatively veteran team – led by Joseph Nava (not related to Jaime Nava) – but one that will have a new coach, L.D. Green Sr., this season.

“It definitely helps us that we don’t have to change our offense,” the Buttons quarterback said. “We’ve got a strong, disciplined coach. I’m really looking forward to the season. We’re changing a few things here and there, but we’re going to do the best we can with what we have.

“We want all 11 on the field to play as one.”

Central Catholic was tied 14-14 with Edison at halftime. The Golden Bears matched each of the Buttons’ next two touchdowns behind senior quarterback Jonathan Hernandez, who’ll be in his second season as a starter, like Nava.

Hernandez unleashed a bomb to Mike Benavidez for a score that tied it 27-27.

“We played well,” the Edison quarterback said. “We’ve gotten a lot better in the offseason. I believe we can have a successful season. We just have to keep practicing hard and bring it into the season.”

He has been working on becoming a stronger, more accurate thrower.

“Running still will be my first option,” Hernandez said, “but I’m becoming a lot better passer. I want to be more of a threat.”

Nava threw a seven-yard touchdown pass to Troy Lozano, then threw to his brother for the extra point. Jaime Nava held on for a juggling catch and a 34-27 advantage. Following an interception, Nava and Lozano connected for a clinching touchdown.

“It’s definitely a positive to have the experience,” Joseph Nava said. “We have a lot of maturity. We’re starting to jell.”

Highlands was gaining varsity experience in the league.

“We have a very young team with a lot of underclassmen,” DeLuna said. “We made a lot of improvement from our first game through our remaining games. It’s all about competition.”

McCollum quarterback Ralph Vidal still is working his way back from a season-ending injury that prevented him from playing in the 2013 Frontier Bowl. Although Vidal isn’t 100 percent yet, he looked sharp as he led the Cowboys back from a 14-8 deficit against Harlandale.

“I felt a lot better than last year,” Vidal said. “Last year, we had a new offense and a new defense. We’ve got a lot of guys returning. If we keep coming in every morning to practice, that’s what it comes down to.”

Cowboys and Indians players were jokingly referring to the 7-on-7 showdown as Frontier Bowl II. Vidal was asked if the result would be mentioned to Harlandale when the rivals meet Nov. 7 in the 2014 Frontier Bowl.

“Frontier Bowl II was fun,” Vidal said. “Seven-on-7 is all fun and good, but the Frontier Bowl is what it comes down to.”

Participating teams all understood, however, that in order to get desired results at that stage of the season, they needed to put in the 7-on-7 work.

BOYS BASKETBALL: Martinez hopes to maintain Lanier traditions as Bernal’s successor

Voks still will sport postseason yellow hair under alum


Joseph Martinez (left), who played on Lanier's 2000 and 2001 state teams, will succeed his mentor Rudy Bernal (right) as Lanier's boys basketball coach.
Joseph Martinez (left), who played on Lanier’s 2000 and 2001 state teams, will succeed his mentor Rudy Bernal (right) as Lanier’s boys basketball coach.




Fear not Voks fans, postseason Lanier High School boys basketball teams will continue to dye their follicles blond, just as they’ve done since 2000.

That highly visible Voks tradition will live on under new stewardship, just as it did under 31-year coach Rudy Bernal. That shouldn’t come as a surprise to those who know that Bernal’s successor, 30-year-old Joseph Martinez, was a sophomore on the first Lanier team to apply hair dye before its bi-district contest and maintain it throughout its playoff run.

“I’m sure now, it’s kind of us,” said Martinez, who has been an assistant to Bernal for the past six seasons. “(The kids) always look forward to it. There’s always one or two kids that don’t want to do it, but their teammates pick on them until they do. Once they make the postseason, the kids really love it.”

Bernal confirmed that he recommended his former four-year varsity player for the job. Martinez, a guard on the Voks 2000 and 2001 state finalists, accepted the position June 23.

“I think Joe has a great work ethic and he’s interested in making sure kids not only learn about basketball,” Bernal said, “but making sure once they leave Lanier, whether they go on to college or whatever they decide to do, that they’re prepared to be successful.

“That was a big part of what we did and I know he will continue to do kind of the same thing.”

In addition to the two state appearances, Bernal posted a 568-443 record at Lanier before retiring following the Voks’ heartbreaking 60-52 bi-district loss to Hays Feb. 18. His Voks teams qualified for the postseason 15 times.

Bernal, who resigned his teaching position at Lanier when the school year ended, hopes to continue his coaching career at a private school. However, Bernal said last Wednesday that he hadn’t made a decision on his next destination.

Martinez is amazed by the way things have come together for him since being graduated from Lanier in 2002.

“This is a dream come true,” he said. “I didn’t want to coach anywhere other than Lanier. I feel so lucky to have gotten a job right out of college. A lot of my friends didn’t.

“This last week has been very exciting, just to realize how many people were paying attention (to the hire). I’ve been constantly receiving e-mails, text messages and phone calls congratulating me on the job. To be able to take over this program, it’s an honor.”

Martinez pursued his basketball career at Hibbing (Minn.) Community College, but sustained a knee injury during his two years there and elected not to continue playing basketball. Martinez transferred to Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi and enrolled as a business major.

That career path was swiftly abandoned.

“Since probably third or fourth grade, I’d been playing basketball,” Martinez said. “I ended up changing my major to athletic administration. I guess you could say I was going through basketball withdrawal.”

He didn’t last long on the post-graduate job market. Martinez returned to Lanier as a physical education and assistant basketball coach without having to do a saturation mailing of his resume.

“I kind of kept in contact and when he graduated, we had a position open,” Bernal said. “It just kind of worked out.”

Martinez’s education in the finer points of Lanier basketball didn’t end when his playing career was over. It has been ongoing as an assistant to Bernal. His mentor knew of his desire to be a head coach and regularly gave him tips, Martinez said.

He plans to continue implementing Bernal’s offensive and defensive systems, with only minor modifications.

“The biggest thing I’ve learned from Coach is his abillity to motivate kids and give them confidence,” Martinez said. “That’s what helped me get through college. Coach always reminded us that we could improve.

“He is one of the ultimate motivators. He motivated these kids to always play hard and play the game the right way.”

Bernal helped ease Martinez’s transition to the job by allowing him to run Lanier’s basketball period during school hours, starting after spring break. The group he taught was included most of the players he’ll inherit in the coming season.

Martinez also was serving as the Voks’ junior varsity coach.

Lanier will return two starters from its 25-9 team, 5-foot-10 senior wing Chris Salazar (8.3 points a game) and 6-foot-4 sophomore Isaiah Vargas (7.8). Junior Raul Solis displayed a deft three-point touch off the bench while scoring 11 points against Hays.

“For next year, that’s going to be huge,” Martinez said, referring to his knowledge of his prospective players. “The varsity returns four guys and I had a very strong JV group. The top six or seven from JV will be bumped up. I believe they’re ready to go to the varsity level and compete.

“Things are going to be a little different. It’ll be a little more structured.”

Although he won’t be quite as easily accessible, Bernal said he’ll be available for help and advice if Martinez reaches out to him.

“I don’t think he’ll need a whole lot of help,” Bernal said, “but, if he has questions, I’ll make sure he knows he can always call on me.”