The Rio Grande City Rattlers are eagerly preparing for the upcoming 2019 football season with high hopes that they will achieve one of their most successful seasons in recent years, reaching the state playoffs and perhaps even winning a district title.
The Rattlers will be led by a new head coach, Leo Mireles, who was highly successful as an assistant coach and coordinator at three Laredo schools over a 15-year period from 2004-2018. Mireles, a 1993 Roma High graduate, took the reins of his first head coaching job this past January.
Mireles emphasized in early August, “I believe we’ll be ready to line up against anybody. I like our chances to reach the playoffs…I do believe we will surprise a lot of people. I feel confident that we will reach the playoffs…The youngsters are determined to do something special this season and reach the playoffs.”
“We had our six-weeks summer camp; we could devote two hours a week for football skills and that went well,” explained the new Rattler skipper. “We start full-scale varsity workouts on Aug. 12. Technically, in the first five days, you cannot have two-a-days; we have one workout per day. Basically, two-a-days don’t exist anymore for all practical purposes.”
Mireles stressed that preseason conditioning and preparation “are going real well. We’ve had a good turnout; all the kids are showing up every day. Everyone has excellent morale and high spirits. We indicated to the kids that we need a little stronger commitment from them to make the playoffs, and they’re showing increased commitment in the preseason. The better we’re prepared and the more effort we’ve invested, the better the chances are that luck will go our way.”
Defensive Coordinator Luis Lauriano, who coached with Mireles at Laredo United for the previous six seasons, commented, “This has become a player-led football team. The players are actively encouraging each other. The players have shown obvious growth since the spring.”
According to the 2019 Texas Football preseason magazine, the Rattlers return nine starters – five on offense and four on defense – from the 2018 team. The Rattlers will soon begin their second season in the radically reconfigured District 16-5A Division I, which is comprised of 10 teams, including four Brownsville schools.
“This (the Rattler team) seems to be a senior-oriented ball club,” commented Coach Mireles. “The teams that have reached the playoffs, such as Mission Veterans and Brownsville Pace, know what it takes to reach the playoffs.”
Mireles noted his belief in utilizing a traditional spread offense, emphasizing that “on offense, we’ll take what the defenses give us. My goal is for us to have a very balanced offense. If opposing coaches sell out to stop the pass, we’ll obviously try to run more. At United last year, we had a senior quarterback and a first year running back, so opponents focused on stopping the pass and we wound up running the ball really well.”
Senior Mario Garza (215 pounds) is expected to be the starting quarterback. Mireles contended, “He’s doing an excellent job of leading the players and in learning the offense. I typically don’t like running the quarterbacks that much. He has a strong arm and does well at throwing the ball.”
Garza saw significant action and was a part-time starter early in the 2018 season before he sustained a season-ending knee injury in the fourth game. In his shortened junior season, Garza passed for 457 yards and four touchdowns. Mireles declared that “Mario’s rehab went really well and he is back at full strength.”
Sophomore Kevin Guerra (195) and junior Mike Ramos (170) are also available to play quarterback if needed. Mireles commented, “Kevin did really well at spring ball and went to two quarterback camps in the summer.” Senior Angel Galvan (175) is the obvious leader at running back after seeing significant action the previous two seasons. Mireles noted, “Other than Angel, we’re quite young at the running back position.” In 2018, Galvan rushed for 469 yards on 98 carries and scored five touchdowns and caught 18 passes for 203 yards and two scores.
The head coach evaluated Galvan as being “really quick and very shifty; he’ll make you miss. He has the quickness to go all the way…We will count on Angel Galvan in our running game; he’s a three-year letterman.” The leading returning receivers are junior Allan Garcia (180) and senior J.C. Nunez (170). Mireles suggested, “Their experience will help our offense a lot. Allan is an explosive player; one of our fastest players. He will help us out at safety on defense. I think Nunez is our most experienced route-runner. He has good hands and does the little things that are needed.”
Allan Garcia caught 31 passes for 493 yards and six touchdowns in 2018. He caught scoring passes of 82 and 32 yards against PSJA Southwest, and caught short passes and broke loose for touchdowns of 73 and 14 yards against Brownsville Porter. J.C. Nunez caught 14 passes for 221 yards and two scores, including a 70-yard touchdown strike against Brownsville Porter.
Mireles noted, “We are looking for other receivers.” Among the candidates at the receiver positions is senior Artemio Alvarez (160).
“Our offensive line should be our strong point on offense,” predicted the head coach. “We return three of five starters – senior center Zac Compean (220), senior tackle David Salinas (260), and senior tackle Ulysses Perez (275). Senior Isaac Reyes (310) and junior Mike Trevino (275) are projected to be the starters at the offensive guard positions.”
Regarding the overall offensive line talent, Mireles commented, “It helps a lot to have so much returning experience on the line. As a group, they work really well together and communicate very well with each other. They’re proficient in blocking for both the running game and passing game. They all know and understand the offense really well.”
Compean was awarded Honorable Mention All-District recognition in both 2017 and 2018 for his performance at the center position. Texas Football recognized the following offensive players as “Players to Watch”: running back Angel Galvan, wide receiver Allan Garcia, center Zac Compean, offensive tackles Ulysses Perez and David Salinas, and quarterback Mario Garza. Texas Football also predicted offensive guard Julio Moreno (260) to be the “Top Sophomore.”
Concerning the defensive outlook, Mireles predicted, “I think our defense will keep us in a lot of games. They’ll need to be fast and quick to the ball. We’re confident they will be able to do that. Proper alignment and sound overall play, including strong and sure tackling, are essential.”
Defensive Coordinator Luis Lauriano pointed out that senior Anthony Ortiz (280) is a returning starter at defensive tackle. He stressed, “We like his intensity in defeating blocks and gaining control of the line of scrimmage.”
Lauriano added that senior tackle Devin Gonzalez (250) “combines speed and power really well and makes a lot of plays behind the line of scrimmage. These two players, both returning starters, should be the anchors of our defensive line.” According to Texas Football, Gonzalez achieved 32 tackles and four tackles for loss as a junior in 2018. The defensive coordinator declared, “There isn’t a lot of experience at the defensive end positions, but there’s a lot of athleticism.”
Lauriano continued, “We feel very good about our linebacker group. We have a lot of strength in the middle with senior Luis Hernandez (205). He does really well at taking control of the tackle box.”
He contended that junior Eleazar Garcia (175) “is our best athlete in space. We’ve moved him from running back to outside linebacker. He had a great spring and made a lot of plays. We have some other promising players at linebacker. They have a lot of potential, but not a lot of experience. We feel we’re building up some good depth at linebacker.”
Lauriano predicted that junior safety Marc Perez (170) will be the quarterback of our secondary. He’s an athlete who can make a lot of plays. He’s excellent at run support and has excellent decision-making skills. He does really well at learning coverage schemes. He’s quickly becoming one of our pillars as far as leadership is concerned.” Texas Football indicated that Perez collected 48 tackles and three interceptions during the 2018 season.
Senior cornerback Andres Martinez (160) “did a great job of competing and staying on the field during the spring,” declared Lauriano. “He has excellent heart; he’s an excellent role model and has great character.”
The coordinator continued, “There are other players that have potential, and we’re hoping they’ll establish themselves. Allan Garcia should see significant action at safety. He’s a special player who can play both ways. Obviously we recognize that he will be heavily counted upon on offense. We intend to create needed depth and make wise decisions on utilizing our players.”
Concerning the defensive approach, Lauriano emphasized, “We’re very simple and basic and do what needs to be done to defeat the offense at the line of scrimmage…At United, we took pride in making strong and successful halftime adjustments.”
Linebacker Luis Hernandez and safety David Carreon are listed by Texas Football as defensive “Players to Watch” in 2019. Defensive end J.J. Bocanegra (205) and linebacker Eleazar Garcia are listed by the magazine as “Top Juniors.”
About the 2019 District 16-5A Division I outlook, Mireles commented, “I expect our district to be really competitive…Until proven otherwise, Mission Veterans is the team to beat. Brownsville Pace and Brownsville Veterans have strong teams. I feel that any of the 10 teams have the potential to reach the playoffs.”
In 2018, Mission Veterans stormed through district play with a 9-0 record and achieved an overall mark of 12-2, reaching the fourth round of the playoffs before coming up short against a strong San Antonio Wagner team. Patriots’ quarterback Landry Gilpin was a dominant player from 2015-2018, and his achievements were so spectacular that he was honored as Mr. Texas Football for 2018.
The Rattlers will open their season at home on Friday, Aug. 30 at 7:30 p.m. against the Roma Gladiators, their Starr County rival, in their only non-district game. They will open district play on the road on Friday, Sept. 6 against the La Joya Palmview Lobos. The Rattlers’ district home opener will be on Friday, Sept. 13 at 7:30 p.m. against the Brownsville Lopez Lobos.
The Rattlers are hopeful that a new approach and new energy will help spur them to achieve one of their best seasons in recent years. For the Rattlers to have a successful season, the most experienced and talented players on both offense and defense will need to stay healthy.
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