Legendary coach Vince Lombardi once said that “Confidence is contagious. So is lack of confidence.” That air of confidence is strong at El Paso Eastwood as the Troopers are looking to bounce back after a 5-5 season that saw them miss the playoffs after a run to the 6A regional semifinals in 2015.
“I’m extremely confident that we can do that,” said head coach Julio Lopez, “I was confident in us last season too because we were really young but talented. Going into this year, I have that same feeling like I had when I first got hired (in 2015) and had Mark (Torrez) and Richie (Rodriguez) for their senior year.”
One of the major storylines of Eastwood’s season came during the third game of the year at Odessa Permian. Starting quarterback Seth Ochoa went down with a torn ACL in his left knee and was declared out for the year. It was a tough blow for a young team that looked to be a contender.
“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 that injury, Lopez and his team realize how close his team was to that playoff spot in spite of the adversity. Evan Aguilar moved over from linebacker back under center and the Eastwood offense was able to maintain that explosiveness. Then the Troopers hit the other big wall of their season: their inability to close out games.
The Troopers went 3-4 in District 1-6A play and lost all four of those games by a combined 18 points. It was a tough pill to swallow for a team that felt like they were a better than their record indicated.
“After what happened last year, I think all of us took it as a very humbling season,” said rising senior cornerback Andrew Crank, “It made us hungrier and I think we’re going to have an even bigger drive next season.”
“It was disappointing to go 5-5 last year,” said rising senior receiver Pete Cadena, “We dealt with injuries but we couldn’t close out games down the stretch and that’s one thing we’re really stressing heading into next year.”
You can’t change what happens to you, but you can change how you handle what happens to you. That’s how the Troopers are turning the page into 2017. As the team does their offseason work and prepares for spring football, they will do so with a more experienced team. Eastwood brings back at least 40 seniors on the team and starters at “virtually every skill position” according to Lopez.
“It’s going to be an older team, especially with the whole offense coming back with the exception of a couple of linemen,” Lopez said of his 2017 team, “Going into this year, we’re feeling extremely confident. I think when you have the year we had last year dealing with a lot of adversity, injuries and losing close games, it’s tough. But it’s encouraging when you go through all that and you’re still right there, it’s great and we’re expecting a great year.”
“I definitely think we have the talent to do great things next year,” Cadena said, “I don’t think a lot of the guys have reached their full potential yet so that’s why I think we’ll be a scary team. All the pieces are there.”
It’s safe to say that the expectations are high for the Troopers as they’re hungry to build off the experience from last year. While the season is still more than five months away from kickoff, the team is ready for what lies ahead, especially with Odessa Permian on the schedule and an always competitive District 1-6A.
“I think we have the potential to go undefeated,” Ochoa said, “Last year, there were a lot of new guys on the team but with more experience, we know what to do in those different situations and that will help.”
“As we head into our district play, we know that no lead is ever safe,” Lopez said, “I think we’re ready. Our kids are hungry for this year and they look it as a sort of revenge tour because there is still a lot to accomplish here at Eastwood.”
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