Looking back at El Paso Eastwood’s 2016 season, the Troopers had lots of questions about what could have been. Eastwood lost four district games by a combined 15 points, went 5-5 and were left on the outside looking in for the postseason. Heading into spring football however, Eastwood head coach Julio Lopez already senses a change in attitude from his team.
“Out of all the springs I’ve been here, this is the hungriest I’ve seen the team,” Lopez said, “With all the close losses that we went through and with all the injuries, we were still that close to breaking through. We’re trying to do better than 5-5 last year and one of our goals is to bring that district championship here to Eastwood.”
Lopez’s players agreed with that sentiment.
“I feel that our team has really come closer together,” defensive end Jake Hernandez said, “That’s what’s stood out to me so far this spring.”
“We’re really focused on closing out games,” offensive lineman Joe Salas said, “All those games that we lost were all games that we had chance to win last year. It’s a good group and I think we’ll be stronger than we were last year.”
It’s that refreshed attitude and the experience coming back that has Lopez very high on confidence for his veteran team. One of those key pieces is also back in action for the Troopers after missing the majority of last season.
Quarterback Seth Ochoa was back practicing with his team on Tuesday after recently being medically cleared for full activity. Ochoa tore the ACL in his left knee at Odessa Permian and had been working to find his way back on the field. Now, fully healthy, Ochoa is ready to get back to work.
“If feels great to be back out here,” Ochoa said, “I think this team is going to do something great this fall and we have the potential to do it if we just do what’s expected of us.”
“It’s great to have him back,” Lopez said, “Seth is the guy that we look to. The last time we saw him in action was him lying on the ground against Permian and just getting him back to get the tempo going again and to get him back into the offense is exciting to see.”
Ochoa is back for the Troopers, along with receivers Pete Cadena, Evan Graham, and Robert Minjarez, who Lopez and Ochoa have both acknowledged has stood out during the spring. That said, the Troopers are even more confident on what they have on the other side of the ball.
Eastwood brings back 10 returning starters on defense, including defensive end Jake Hernandez and cornerback Andrew Crank. It’s a unit that also has gone somewhat of a transformation after the ups and downs of last year.
“We’re angry,” Crank said, “We’re out here trying to show people that last year and that record didn’t show what we’re really about.”
“We’ve all played together since middle school,” Hernandez said, “I think we’re going to be one of the most physical defensive teams in El Paso this year.”
“When you have a veteran group like that, there aren’t a lot of missed assignments that you see on film,” Lopez said, “I love the attitude that they’re coming in with their ballhawk mentality and emphasis on forcing turnovers. They’ve done a great job so far.”
That defense will have to be prepared quickly for what they have to start the season. non-district play, they face a stout Midland Christian team led by junior quarterback Peyton Powell, a rivalry game at El Paso Bel Air and a home game against Odessa Permian. That said, as his team continues plugging away in the spring, Lopez believes that his team will have what it takes to get back to the postseason and take the next step as a program.
“We just have to believe in what we do,” he said, “Last year, I feel like we got tight towards the end of games but with our experience, I think they understand that they have to take care of the little things. If everything comes together, we’re excited about the possibilities that lie in front of us.”
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