The 2018 La Joya Community football team sat together last October, anxiously watching the AIA’s selection show unsure of whether it had done enough to secure a spot in the 6A playoffs.
When the Lobos, despite a 7-3 record, were ranked No. 19 and left out of the 16-team bracket, the room instantly went silent. Quickly after, there were some tears, especially from the graduating seniors who were hit with the realization that their high school football careers had ended abruptly.
The memory still stings for the returning players to the 2019 squad, and they vow to make up for the way last season ended with not just a playoff berth, but hopefully a long run if they get there as well.
“We never want to feel that feeling again,” junior Zachary Blackwood said.
Despite a .700 winning percentage — better than five of last year’s 6A playoff teams and even the Nos. 17 and 18 squads ranked ahead of them — new coach Devin Dourisseau remembers being told by an AIA board member that the team had not beaten any “elite” competition. Its three losses came to Chaparral, Basha and Westview, all of which made the playoffs.
The Lobos take on all three of those teams again in 2019, with Chaparral and Basha games back to back in their second and third weeks of the regular season. A repeat of last year’s wins against the other teams, and a defeat of one or both of the Firebirds and Bears, the team believes, will launch it into the discussion of big-time programs, and eventually playoffs, or what the staff calls the “promised land.”
“That will get heads turning, people looking and saying La Joya is a real team that they should take notice of. Then, these guys will have arrived,” Dourisseau said.
The season kicks off for La Joya in late August. The Lobos still have several weeks of strength and conditioning training to go before they even put pads on.
However, there have been several accomplishments along the way that give the team confidence they can win come the regular season.
One such moment came in a recent seven-on-seven passing contest.
The Lobos traveled to California and won the San Diego State Passing Tournament at San Diego State University, defeating Horizon in seven overtimes to claim the first title anybody on the La Joya roster can remember in a major competition.
“After that we know where we stand, what kind of talent we have. It’s just about putting it all together now,” senior Carlos Fernandez said.
The tournament not only provides momentum to a team that was desperately looking for it, but also showcased some of the talent and maturity of the players suited up in navy and gold. Senior quarterback Miguel Valdovinos, who returns after throwing for over 2,400 yard and 29 touchdowns last season, was impressed with the skill that will surround him at the offensive skill positions this year.
“We’ve got a lot of weapons on offense. They are fast, smart guys for me to get the ball out to. It’s going to be fun to see what we can do,” Valdovinos said.
Where coach Dourisseau is concerned in mid-June, though, is in the trenches and with overall numbers. There were no more than 30 or 40 players at a June session, including varsity through freshman players.
Many of the players will be back soon, missing practices due to summer school or family trips. When they return to the field, the numbers will obviously increase. The staff, now, are focused on making sure the players who have had time off are conditioned enough to play four quarters of football in the heat in the approaching season.
However, the Lobos are ready to go to battle with the players they will have this year, low numbers and all. Dourisseau reflected on an old poem he learned in college when it comes to making excuses for numbers or any perceived weakness.
“Excuses are monuments of nothingness; they build bridges to nowhere. Those who use these tools of incompetence seldom become anything but nothing at all,” he quoted.
“That’s something I tell them, and if they’re willing to work hard and follow me, we’re going to get to where we want to be.”
La Joya Community Football kicks off its season August 30 at Maryvale High School.