During the State 7 on 7 Tournament in College Station last week, 128 teams both big and small came to compete for a state crown. There are few, if any teams that logged more miles to get to the main event of high school football during the summer than Sharyland Pioneer.
The Class 5A school from Mission in the Rio Grande Valley may be one of the newest programs on the scene but the Diamondbacks are already making waves. During the last week of state qualifiers, the team decided to take one more chance.
“First off, we have to give credit to our parents,” said senior wide receiver Will Proctor, “Our moms have worked so hard for us and actually arranged the trip to get us set up for that tournament to get us one last chance to get here. We have to give them all the credit in the world to them.”
Proctor and the Diamondbacks made the 500-plus mile trip from Mission to Rowlett in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. The Diamondbacks turned heads simply for making the long trip up the state to compete and later would do the same on the field. When all was said and done, Pioneer was one of the last two teams to punch their ticket to College Station.
Sharyland traveled 550 mi. EACH WAY to try to qualify. Before the qualif. game took pic together in unity. They WON! pic.twitter.com/JQCzQujRmy
— Lamar7on7 (@Lamar7on7) June 23, 2017
“When we told some people that we made an 8-hour trip, they were surprised that we would even make the trip,” Proctor said, “It was a good feeling to know that we were one of the teams that went the farthest to try and qualify for this tournament and to teach people a little bit about football in the Valley.”
“After that trip up to Dallas, we realized that if we could compete here, we could compete anywhere,” said junior quarterback Jacob Rosales, “It was a real big confidence booster for us.”
With such a quick turnaround, the team made the 375-mile drive to Veterans Park in College Station to compete. For a program that is entering its fourth season as a varsity program, this wasn’t the first rodeo at state for Pioneer. They qualified the previous year and advanced three rounds deep into the consolation bracket. That said, the 2017 tournament provided a different feel this time around.
“I think this benefits us a lot,” said senior safety Tyler Bulthuis, “We get to bond with teammates and we get to build chemistry with the team and playing this competition from all over the state will really help us get ready for the season.”
“I feel that getting here was a little bit sweeter this year,” Proctor said, “We had to drag it out to our third tournament in Rowlett so it’s a little more rewarding to know that we had to get through a lot more to get here (College Station).”
In College Station, Pioneer faced stiff competition in their pool with The Colony, Abilene and Dickinson to contend. The Diamondbacks went 1-2 but advanced to the championship bracket for the first time and would face Class 6A Division II state semifinalist Katy Cinco Ranch to start off. The D-Backs fell short 26-12 but ended up taking plenty away from the experience.
As for the upcoming season, Pioneer enters the season as one of the favorites to win District 31-5A. After sharing the district title with Laredo Nixon in 2016 and their first playoff appearance, the Diamondbacks look ready to make their mark and use the state tournament experience as a springboard for 2017.
“We were close as a team last year but I think this experience is going to help us work more as a unit and not just individuals,” Rosales said.
“We just have to play as a team,” Bulthuis added, “Our biggest goal this year is to get back to the playoffs and win that district title and as long as we play together, I think we’ll be in good hands.”
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