The Harlingen Cardinals struggled out of the gate in their 2016 campaign, dropping two of three in predistrict competition, losing 30-13 to Laredo United South and 44-7 to San Antonio Reagan. They rallied heavily during district play to end their season with a 9-3 record, but those heavy losses have to sting a Harlingen program that is used to lots of success.
It’s not surprising to see a Harlingen team rally late in the regular season from a slow start, though. Since 2013, the Cardinals are 6-6 in predistrict competition, but repeatedly find themselves in the second and third rounds of the playoffs, often with a ten win season. Possibly the biggest breakthrough of the season was a two point win over San Benito in the “Battle of the Arroyo”, one of the regions fiercest rivalries. The win broke a two game San Benito streak.
Let’s not mince words – Harlingen loses a lot of talent. The 2016 Cardinals were studded with seniors all across the board, and in order to continue at the same level of success, they’ll need big seasons from key youngsters or new faces.
QB Jesse Castro, TE Jeriel Cervantes, RB Leo Tienda, WR Kanyon Fuentes, DE Edwin Gasca, OLB Sam Gonzalez
There’s not enough room for every single impactful loss that head coach Manny Gomez will be tasked with replacing. This was a unique group, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Jesse Castro was named the MVP of the district, Leo Tienda is a very tough runner, and there are key members of the offensive line that will graduate as well. On the defensive side of the ball, Edwin Gasca will be sorely missed, as well as one of the leaders of the linebacking corps, Sam Gonzalez.
DT Tristan Garcia, DE Samuel Alonzo, T Grant Drabek, WR Riley Sauceda
So, Harlingen loses a lot, that much can’t be denied. The impact players that they do return, though, are in crucial positions. The offensive line will lose some, but returning Grant Drabek will be huge. Reigning Defensive Newcomer of the Year Tristan Garcia will be back for his junior campaign, and Samuel Alonzo will join him on that tough defensive line. Riley Sauceda returning at wideout will provide some continuity for the offensive skill positions.
It’s tough to gauge what next year will bring for Harlingen, simply because they lose so much, and much of next year’s team hasn’t received significant minutes. What we do know is that the continuity, especially on the defensive line, will be fine, because this is just one of those programs that always seems to reload. I think Harlingen is in a great spot with some good returners, especially Tristan Garcia, who will be a name to watch in the future.
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