One of the most consistent contenders in El Paso can be found down on the southeast side of town (known locally as the Lower Valley). The Del Valle Conquistadores were a strong contender once again in 2016, finishing 7-1 in District 2-5A, and making the playoffs yet again for the 13th year in a row.
It was a quick trip to the postseason for Del Valle as they lost to Chapin in the 5A Division I bi-district round on a late goal-line stand. The heartbreaking loss has served as fuel for the Conquistadores this spring.
“That’s a big motivation for us because we want to show people that we can do,” outside linebacker Oscar Rodriguez said, “I really feel like we can go far in the postseason and the way the season ended is something we can use to get better every day.”
“These guys understand now that if you don’t prepare every week as if the team is our best opponent, they’re going to beat you,” said head coach Jesse Perales, “Unfortunately, sometimes it takes a loss like that at the end of the year to realize it.”
The bitter end of the season has forced Del Valle to refocus, get better and take that message to heart. Perales knew he had a young team, but is optimistic about the experience coming back on offense, particularly junior quarterback Raymond Montez.
The younger brother of Colorado quarterback Steven Montez is back and in his second year as a starter, he feels ready to take the next step coming off a year where he put up solid numbers (2,672 total yards, 23 total touchdowns).
“It was a big step last year going from the freshman team straight up to varsity,” Montez said, “With all the experience from last year, playing and practicing with this team I feel like I’ve gotten better and am more comfortable with the offense.”
“The absolute biggest difference is the game has slowed down for him,” Perales said of his quarterback, “I tell him it’s like the Matrix where Neo knows he’s the man but he doesn’t realize it until the end.”
Montez will also have the luxury of having several weapons at the skill positions including leading rusher Adrian Vasquez (717 yards, 12 touchdowns) and rising junior receiver Karch Gardiner, who is being asked to fill the void left behind by leading receivers Jamiel Garcia and Evan Villava (87 catches, 1,301 yards, 12 touchdowns between both players).
It’s a group that Perales is excited about but also is looking forward to seeing what his defense brings to the table after coming on strong late in the spring.
“I saw some guys really flying around,” Perales said following Friday’s spring game, “Sometimes, it’s hard for them to adjust during the spring game because we don’t let them hit low or take to the ground during practice. They were a little hesitant at first, but they were flying around like a typical Del Valle defense that’s known for being physical, aggressive and disciplined. I like our foundation.”
With spring practice in the books and under 100 days to go before their season opener at home against 6A Americas, the Conquistadores are putting a big emphasis on summer workouts that they feel can be the pivot that pushes Del Valle to where they want to be.
“I really think we improved so much as a team,” Rodriguez said of the spring, “We really pushed each other to get better. Now, we need everyone to show up during the summer in order to get stronger and faster.”
“This summer is the biggest key for us,” Montez said, “Last year, I think the difference between us going farther in the playoffs was the summer with guys not showing up or guys going with half effort. This year, we need everybody all in.”
As for Perales, he too is optimistic about where his team stands but knows that the end of spring is only the beginning of preparation.
“We were very young last year and I think since we’re a year more mature, I think we’ll be better. We’ve got a lot of work to do but so does everybody else. From going in the mornings to the spring game, you’re just hoping nobody gets hurt but I’m pretty happy where we’re at. I think we’re better today than we were 18 days ago.”
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