2016 was supposed to be a big year for the El Paso Eastwood Troopers. They were a young team but talented and had all the confidence that they could contend for a district title. Move ahead to Week 3 at Ratliff Stadium in a matchup with Odessa Permian, the Troopers hit a bump in the road when starting quarterback Seth Ochoa went down on the turf.
“I actually went down twice,” Ochoa said as he was describing the injury, “The very first time is when I heard the pop in my knee and I didn’t think anything of it. When I got to the sideline, I was moving fine and running. But when I was getting back on the field for our next drive, my knee felt wobbly so I knew something was wrong.”
The injury turned out to be a torn ACL in his left knee and Ochoa’s season was over not just for football, but for baseball as well. The quarterback is also a Texas Tech baseball commit. It was a tough break for him but also even tougher for his coaches and teammates.
“Losing Seth during that game was tough because I think that he’s one of the top quarterbacks not just in West Texas but the state,” said head coach Julio Lopez.
“It just felt weird not having him out there,” said wide receiver Pete Cadena, “He’s one of our top guys and we just felt bad for him.”
With their starting quarterback done for the year, Lopez turned to senior linebacker Evan Aguilar and moved him back to quarterback. Eastwood also saw sophomore Darius De Anda get some game action as well. Dealing with the injury was tough, but Lopez saw his junior quarterback make the most of his time.
“This wasn’t a kid how got hurt and started sulking, feeling bad for himself and going to sit in a corner,” Lopez said, “This was a kid that was involved helping Evan and Darius grow and helping him with things that he saw and I thought he really matured as a football player.”
The Trooper offense maintained its up-tempo offense but it was tailored to Aguilar’s talents, which meant a bigger emphasis on the running game. The results were still very good offensively, averaging almost 38 points a game for the final seven games of the season.
“It was tough but I just had to go with it,” Ochoa said, “I just had to help my team out any way I could whether it was helping the other quarterbacks go through film, reading coverages and just helping them get better.”
Despite the good offensive production, the Troopers finished 5-5 and missed the playoffs. For the team, it was a “humbling” experience. But being sidelined gave Ochoa a new perspective on the field. In a lot of ways, he became an extra coach on the sideline and he feels that this learning process has helped him become closer with his team.
“We had a really young team last year,” Ochoa said, “but I think that with more experience and us coming closer together, I believe we’ll play better and close out games better than we did last year.”
As for next season, Ochoa says he still has another month of rehab left and will not play in spring ball for the Troopers. He is still on pace to be ready to go by the time the season starts. Cadena said he’s looking for “big things” from Ochoa next season and Lopez shares that confidence in a big year.
“This past year, I think he just grew a lot mentally and matured as a leader,” Lopez said of his rising senior quarterback, “He can make every throw in the book, guys look up to him during crunch time and that goes such a long way. I think he and the weapons around him can help take us to that next step as a program.”
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