Preview: Young Edinburg Vela Team Excited for New Opportunity in 5A
Edinburg Vela’s football team has only lost 28 times in its 10-year history. Making that stat even more impressive is the fact that ten of those losses came back in its inaugural season in 2012.
The Sabercats have finished four of the past five regular seasons undefeated and also advanced to the third round of the playoffs in each of those four seasons.
They haven’t missed the playoffs either since 2013. It’s all part of a remarkable run by a team that has flown under the radar for most of the Lone Star State.
“I think we’re very fortunate that the expectations have kind of permeated not just our football program but our community as well,” Edinburg Vela head coach John Campbell said. “There’s an expectation of a certain level of performance. I think that kind of gives you the ability to transition from year to year because the expectations aren’t really changing.”
After a shortened season due to COVID in 2020 in which Vela played just seven games, the Sabercats were back in full force a year ago. They finished the season 12-1 after winning each of their district contests by at least three scores before Vandegrift defeated them 38-14 in the third round of playoffs.
“It was definitely a good year,” Campbell said. “The year prior was cut short for us, so to have a football season [and] to perform the way our program performed, obviously reflecting back, that was very rewarding.”
This year, the Sabercats will have more of a challenge on their hands with only four total starters returning from last year’s team. Campbell said the current transition the Sabercats are undergoing reminds him of 2019 when his team had a similar changing of the guard. That year, Vela still finished 9-4 and made it to the third round of playoffs.
“We’ve got some kids that are going to have to grow up pretty quickly,” Campbell said. “They’re going to be very talented football players, we’re excited about their future, but at the same time, are going to have to step up so to speak.”
Despite the lack of starting experience, Vela will have 28 returning lettermen on its roster, so the team still will have some varsity experience.
Vela’s biggest loss might be its quarterback Chase Campbell, who recently signed a Letter of Intent with Arkansas State. The battle for the starting job this year is wide open with four players currently competing for the role.
Congratulations to our QB Chase Campbell for signing his LOI to play football at Arkansas State! Another Sabercat headed to the next level. Good luck and we wish you great success. pic.twitter.com/DWIUteEN8o
— Vela Football (@Vela_Football) May 31, 2022
Up front, all eight Vela offensive linemen that earned all-district honors a year ago were seniors. However, Campbell said he is excited about the linemen coming up and believes that the Sabercats have some stars in the making.
The most notable change offensively will be the transition of all-state safety Justin Navarro from defense to offense. Campbell said the Sabercats have done this defense to offense transition for several years, so he is looking forward to seeing what Navarro can do on the other side of the ball.
— RSL Network (@Riosportslive) September 3, 2021
And with Navarro transitioning to offense, expect senior defensive end Jake Dufner, last year’s 31-6A Defensive MVP, to be the leader of the defense for Vela. Campbell believes that the Sabercats have some other good options on the defensive line that have experience but not necessarily the district superlatives like Dufner.
Your District 31-6A, Defensive MVP, Jake Dufner. CONGRATULATIONS! pic.twitter.com/HzcQ9hoZLz
— Vela Football (@Vela_Football) December 3, 2021
The bigger question mark for Vela will be at the linebacker position after the Sabercats graduated several key playmakers.
But despite the lack of big names returning on the Vela defense, Campbell is confident that the unit will come together over the final months of offseason.
“The reality, particularly in a situation like this, is that it’s going to take everybody to be able to maintain the expectations that we want to maintain,” Campbell said. “We’ve got a whole bunch of new faces, so we’ve got a very important summer. Right now, the focus is a concentrated effort individually to become the best football player you can be within the framework of our program”
Another big change for the Sabercats will be the competition they square off against this year. After six seasons in 6A, Vela is dropping back into 5A Division I for this realignment.
And in District 15-5A Division I, competition will be fierce. McAllen, McAllen Memorial, McAllen Rowe, and fellow 6A dropdown PSJA North all made the playoffs last year. And just like Vela, PSJA North and McAllen Memorial were third round playoff teams last season.
“Playing football in the Rio Grande Valley, I think sometimes we get a stigma from places outside of the Rio Grande Valley,” Campbell said. “I think we’re in a district that would be a performer in other places in the state of Texas. There’s some quality football teams in there.”
1st intra squad scrimmage pics pic.twitter.com/7N2gOcMlsR
— Vela Football (@Vela_Football) May 7, 2022
The biggest change Vela and its fellow 6A dropdown PSJA North will be glad to see is no Westlake or Lake Travis in the 5A playoffs. Westlake dumped Vela out of the playoffs in 2017 and 2018, and they defeated PSJA North in the third round this past year. Without these two powerhouses, region 4 looks more wide open in 5A Division I compared to 6A.
That potential has Campbell looking forward to this football season.
“It’s going to be very competitive, but that’s ultimately why you sign up for this deal,” Campbell said. “And again, everything’s on paper right now, but it looks like we’re going to have a chance to be as competitive as we ever have been as we transition to playoff season.”
2022 Edinburg Vela Schedule
(Bold designates District 15-5A Division I Matchup)
8/26 vs. Edinburg North
9/2 at Edinburg
9/8 at Weslaco East
9/15 vs. McAllen Memorial
9/22 at PSJA North
10/6 vs. Rio Grande City
10/14 at McAllen
10/21 vs. Juarez-Lincoln
10/27 vs. La Joya Palmview
11/3 at McAllen Rowe
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