McCollum wins Frontier Bowl preview
Photo courtesy of Rene DeLeon.
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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.