SEASON PREVIEW: El Paso programs set to battle for District 1-6A supremacy

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As preseason workouts begin all over much of the state of Texas, it is time to begin looking forward to next season.

Our journey starts in the far western reaches of Texas with El Paso ISD Socorro ISD, and Ysleta ISD in District 1-6A. This district is nearly identical to last season’s except for the additions of Eastlake and Eastwood, who move up from 5A.

With one of the best running backs in 6A, two star quarterbacks moving up from 5A, and other teams looking to reload after graduating star players, it will certainly be a district to watch. Here is a look for the players and storylines to watch for in the upcoming season as these teams battle for supremacy in El Paso.

El Paso Americas Trail Blazers (2615.5)

Last Season: 10-2; Defeated by Arlington in Area Round
Head Coach: Patrick Melton: 12th season as head coach
Non-District game to watch: 8/28 vs. Midland Christian- These two teams squared off a year ago in a tightly contested matchup in which Americas prevailed 35-28.
Player to watch: Senior RB Aaron Dumas- Rushed for 3184 yards and 36 touchdowns a year ago. He has offers from 15 Division I programs, but Arizona State is the only one from a power five program.
Storylines: Coming off a district title, Americas returns a pair of players who were named on the first team AP All-State football team last year in Aaron Dumas and DE Dylan Kemp. Both impress Melton with their “work ethic and leadership qualities.” Dumas will lead the way on offense and Kemp will continue to look to terrorize quarterbacks defensively after racking up 31 sacks a season ago. Senior Evan Chisolm, who just received his first Division I offer from Tarleton State, will anchor the secondary after picking off five passes last year. One thing to watch is the Trail Blazers will have to replace both their starting quarterback and top receiver from a year ago after both graduated. However, with Dumas and Kemp leading the way, they will be favored to make it to the playoffs for the third year in a row.

El Paso Coronado Thunderbirds (2663.5)

Last Season: 2-8
Head Coach: Bob Anderson: 9th season as head coach
Non-District game to watch: 9/11 vs. Carlsbad (NM)- These two schools have squared off the past two seasons with each winning one game apiece. With Carlsbad traveling to El Paso this year, it will be a good test for the Thunderbirds against an out-of-state opponent before district play begins.
Player to watch: WR Garrett Levesque- Big bodied WR or TE at 6’ 5” and 205 pounds who had 460 receiving yards a year ago. He is also a basketball star at shooting guard so his athleticism will be something to watch this year on the gridiron for the Thunderbirds.
Storylines: Coronado has plenty of talent to replace from a season ago after their top quarterback, running back, wide receiver, and tight end all graduated. Levesque and 5’ 11” Mike Williams, a second-team all district selection last year, will be players to watch at receiver. Defensively, seniors DT Ivan Ortiz, DE Anthony Avina, LB Connor Mcfadin, and LB John Filley, who had four interceptions a year ago, return and will look to lead the Coronado defense, according to Anderson. “We will have a young team that will rely on many other returners that had a lot of varsity [playing] time and a solid JV team to fill in the gaps,” Anderson said. The Thunderbirds will aim to gel quickly as they look to bounce back from their 2-8 season a year ago and make it back it back to the playoffs like they did after finishing 7-4 in 2018.

El Paso Eastlake Falcons (2342)

Last Season (5A): 6-5: Defeated in Bi-District by Lubbock Monterey
Head Coach: Ruben Rodriguez: 2nd season as head coach
Non-District game to watch: 9/11 @El Paso Parkland- Parkland was 11-1 a season ago and made it to the area round. This will be a good road test for the Falcons in the last game before district play begins.
Player to watch: QB Orion Olivas- The 1-5A District co-MVP from a year ago threw for 3,865 yards and 35 touchdowns while also adding 425 yards and 7 touchdowns on the ground last season. He has five Division I offers including ones from Texas Southern and Houston Baptist among others.
Storylines: Olivas will be the key as Eastlake makes the step up from 5A to 6A. Despite this step up, he still might be the best quarterback in the district. “Orion has always been a great athlete, but Orion’s work ethic is what makes him a great player.  Being a 2-sport athlete, Orion has to balance the development of his skills in both football and basketball along with his academics in which he maintains a 4.0 GPA,” Rodriguez said. “Orion is consistently in the gym working out or out at a park throwing with wide receivers trying to perfect the position of QB.  Orion’s leadership skills can not be overlooked either, as he will lead our team this fall.” Olivas has two very talented targets back in Matthew Jones, who had over 1,300 yards receiving last year, and Kyahn Williams, a first-team all district selection last season. DB/WR Blas Compean, who has an offer from Austin Peay, will star on both sides of the ball after sharing District MVP honors with Olivas last season. Defensively, DL Matt Vargas, OLB Korbyn Wells, CB Alfonso Mancera, and S Jacob Flores all return after being first team all-district selections a year ago. This amount of returning talent means that Eastlake will be a team to watch in District 1-6A as they look to make the playoffs for the 8th consecutive season.

El Paso Eastwood Troopers (2289)

Last Season (5A): 5-6: Defeated in Bi-District by Lubbock Coronado
Head Coach: Julio Lopez: 6th year as head coach
Non-District game to watch: 9/11 @Smithson Valley- Eastwood will trek over 500 miles to square off against Smithson Valley, a playoff team from a year ago, in a game that will serve as their last test before district play begins.
Player to Watch: QB Andrew Martinez- Martinez was impressive after stepping in as sophomore for injured starter Christian Castaneda last season. He was named the District 1-5A offensive newcomer of the year last season and was also awarded the Mr. Texas Football Player of the Week in week 10 of last season after throwing for 310 yards and rushing for 187 more in an 80-39 win over Bel Air.
Storylines: Martinez’s dual threat ability will be crucial as the Troopers step up to 6A again after two years in 5A. “Andrew Martinez has the ability to be one of the most electric players in the city next year and possibly the region and even state. He fits our offense perfectly and you should see a lot of production out of him in the pass and run game,” Lopez said. “He has breakaway speed, a high IQ for the game from the QB position, but what separates him is his competitiveness, leadership, and his will to win. He has everything you could want out of the QB position and expect him to be great the next two years.”  Martinez will have plenty of weapons at his disposal as WR AJ Delgado returns after racking up 1229 receiving yards a season ago as well as junior RB Luca Gandara, a second team all-district selection last season. Defensively, DE Vincent Valdez, LB Rudy Tellez, OLB Patrick Avila, and CB Jonah Wheeler all return after being first team all-district selections last season. With Martinez’s playmaking ability and the amount of players returning on defense with experience, Eastwood will look to make some noise as they move back up to the 6A level.

El Paso Franklin Cougars (2909.5)

Last Season: 8-3; Defeated in bi-district by Odessa Permian
Head Coach: Daren Walker: 14th season as head coach
Non-District game to watch: 9/4 @Basha (AZ)- The Cougars will travel west to take on Basha in Chandler, Arizona in what will serve as an intriguing out-of-state test before district play begins.
Player to watch: LB Steven Powers- Named first team all-district last season as a sophomore after racking up 87 total tackles including 9 TFL last season. With two more seasons, he certainly as the potential to continue to grow and lead the Cougar defense this season.
Storylines: Franklin has a lot to replace offensively after their starting quarterback and top two wide receivers from last season graduated. Pablo Gutierrez will be an option at running back for the Cougars while TE Noel Moreno also returns and has attracted the attention of some Division III and NAIA programs. On defense, the Cougars have some more talent back. DT James Apsey will anchor the defensive line coming off a season where he had 65 total tackles and was named first team all-district, while Powers will be a leader at linebacker. “We graduated pretty much all of our offense and some of the important defensive players. So, [it’s going] to be a challenge to develop players, especially with the situation we are in [with] no spring ball and only online workouts,” Walker said. “We have very hard working players and coaches. When we get back to work, I know they will work to surprise people.” With the amount of turnover from last season, this Franklin team will be reliant on younger players stepping up if they are to make it back to the playoffs for the third straight season.

El Paso Montwood Rams (2675)

Last Season: 7-4; Defeated in bi-district by Midland Lee
Head Coach: Ariel Famaligi; 5th season as head coach
Non-District game to watch: 9/4 @San Angelo Central- The Rams will have to travel nearly 400 miles for this showdown against a team that also made it to the bi-district round a year ago.
Player to watch: WR Aaron “Mo” Morales- A three sport athlete for the Rams, starring in baseball, basketball, and football. He will be a crucial cog in the offense this season after totaling 415 yards and 10 touchdowns a year ago.
Storylines: The Rams have a lot to replace including their starting quarterback, running back, top receiver, and leading tackler on defense after finishing second in district a year ago. However, the Rams do return depth at receiver. “We have four talented and experienced receivers returning in [Sal] Soto, [Yamil] Oaxaca, [Jazz] Jackson, and Morales,” Famaligi said. “Each one of them is capable of challenging the defense vertically and, with all of them on the field at the one time, we feel [we] have potent offensive weapons stretching the entire width of the field.” Famaligi had high praise for these receivers, noting that Morales “can run, catch, and leap with the best of them,” Soto “is an incredible athlete who can play multiple positions,” Jackson is “perhaps the most talented of all at 6’2″ with excellent speed and sure hands,” and Oaxaca, a junior, is “perhaps the fastest of the group.” Also, according to Famaligi, senior Josh Ochoa and junior Kevin Melendez will battle for the starting quarterback position once the team is able to return for in-person workouts. On the other side of the ball, DT Ivan Escobar, who had 80 total tackles last season, is back to anchor the line after being named a first team all-district selection. DE Abraham Lopez, a second team selection last season, also returns after racking up 13 TFL a season ago. The Rams will look for the experience of their receiving core and defensive line to step up as they aim to make it to the playoffs for the second year in a row.

El Paso Pebble Hills Spartans (2582)

Last Season: 5-6; Defeated in bi-district by Amarillo Tascosa
Head Coach: Mark Torres: 6th season as head coach
Non-District game to watch: 8/28 vs. Permian- Permian is coming off a 7-5 season in which they made the area round in playoffs. They will be a good test for the Spartans at home in their season opener.
Player to watch: RB/WR Jalen Partida- An explosive player at 5’9” and 165 pounds. He was named first team all-district last year as a kick returner and on the second team as a receiver after catching 33 passes for 432 yards and 6 touchdowns.
Storylines: Although the Spartans must replace their starting quarterback from last season, they do have some pieces coming back for them on offense this year after averaging over 36 points per game a year ago. The versatile Partida is back as is RB Anthony Donacio, a second team all-district selection last season, who is a threat as both a runner and a receiver. “Our staff does a great job with our scheme of putting each quarterback in a position to maximize what they do best,” Torres said. “Having said that, we look to once again have an offense where six to seven guys are heavy contributors across the field. We will be good, we do have playmakers, but our offensive line should be the key. They could very well be the best we’ve had in our brief existence.” On defense, S Chaz Clemons will anchor the secondary after being named a first team all-district selection last season. The Spartans have some explosive playmakers, making them a team to watch as they search for their fourth straight playoff appearance and first ever playoff victory in just their fifth year as a varsity program.

El Paso Socorro Bulldogs (2408)

Last Season: 0-10
Head Coach: Anthony Hinsley: 2nd season as head coach
Non-District game to watch: 9/11 @ El Paso- El Paso failed to notch a win last season and this will be a big chance for the Bulldogs to pick up a win and enter district play with some momentum.
Player to watch: LB Sebastian De La Torre- Has been a leader at linebacker on the Bulldogs defense the past two seasons and was named second team all-district last season.
Storylines: It has been a struggle for the Bulldogs the last couple seasons as they are in the midst of a 50-game losing streak, but they do return several players in key positions. QB Bryan Leyva is back after starting as a sophomore and being an honorable mention on the district teams. His top target 6’ 2” Jacob Vetterkind is back as well after earning second team honors. Leyva has a good line in front of him as well as C Juan Alvarado, a first team selection last season, and junior OL Jose Juarez both return. Defensively, De La Torre and Emmanuel Rojero will make an impactful tandem at linebacker. The Bulldogs have experience back in important positions, especially offensively, as Hinsley looks to get this program back to winning ways.

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