EDINBURG — It didn’t take very long for the Edinburg Vela SaberCats to make their presence felt on the football field.
In just under a decade from when the school first opened to now, Vela has fielded nine football teams, four that finished the regular season unbeaten and five that captured district championships.
In that time frame, the SaberCats have become the undisputed champions of Edinburg and one of the Rio Grande Valley’s perennial powers on the gridiron winning 75 out of 101 games in program history to this point.
“What has helped us build towards a winning team is the chemistry between us and the communication we have on the field, the ability to overpower other teams not only mentally but we are also physically ready for any opponent we face,” said junior running back PJ Rivera, who has 265 yards and six touchdowns on the ground through four games this season.
“We work our tails off all week as we get ready for the next team and I believe the trust we have in each other to get our jobs done one on one with any team we face is what leads us to success at the end of the game, our coaches do their part and guide us through new things and the execution level we put into that is outstanding.”
Edinburg Vela and head coach John Campbell, however, will face a new test and some familiar faces as they prepare to enter the area round of the Class 6A Division II playoffs for the fourth consecutive season.
Campbell, who got his high school football coaching career started in San Antonio, and the SaberCats will travel upstate to face San Antonio Brennan and his son Joshua, an assistant coach for the Bears, at 7 p.m. Friday at Buccaneer Stadium in Corpus Christi.
“They’re the No. 1 team in their district and they’re very explosive. Coach (Stephen) Basore and I got into coaching together,” Campbell said of San Antonio Brennan, which won the District 29-6A title this season. “There’s a lot of familiarity there and there are a lot of members of that coaching staff who worked with me over at (San Antonio) Brandeis a long time ago. It’s going to be exciting.”
The SaberCats feel that they have the depth, talent and winning culture to compete against the top teams anywhere across the state.
Many of their players liken the experience of playing at Vela to playing in a college program, which is an appropriate comparison given that the SaberCats’ coaching staff is loaded with former collegiate and NFL players.
“Playing at vela is honestly like playing at a little college. The morning meetings, the way coach Campbell runs things with us, it’s been a true blessing,” said senior wideout Mito Perez, one of three SaberCats’ receivers to rank within the top five throughout District 31-6A in terms of yardage this season. “Coach Campbell and all the other coaches give us game plans that they know will succeed if we run them to the T. They put us in the best position to win games and big ball games, and a lot of the guys see that — even the youngsters — if you follow what they tell you to do, you’re going to do good. Even if it’s one step or where you line up on the field, it’s just us players gaining so much trust in the coaching staff that’s here right now.”
With just a quick glance at the SaberCats’ roster in 2020, it could easily be mistaken for a college team too.
Perez, a catcher on the diamond, signed a national letter of intent to play baseball at Division I Tarleton State, while his quarterback AJ Sotelo, another multi-sport star and flame-throwing pitcher, has verbally committed to Incarnate Word.
But Vela has plenty of DI football talent too. Both the team’s right and left tackles — seniors Andrew Alvarado and Ronnie Garza — signed to play college football Wednesday at Houston Baptist and UTSA, respectively.
That talent and depth have helped propel Edinburg Vela to a 6-0 start and into the area round once more, where the SaberCats hope to earn a statement win for their program and community.
“It would mean everything to us to go out and beat a team upstate,” Rivera said. “This year is something different; we got something special. Not everyone sees that and one thing we do is prove all the (critics) wrong. We have many doubters and we love them. We will definitely put Vela on the map with all those other teams upstate if we can come out with a victory Friday night. We work too hard to fail. We have players that are special just as well as they do, but I truly believe we can do something special on game day.”
“We feel like it would mean a lot not only to us but our community too. We’ve felt like that the past couple of years, if I’m being honest, and we’ve gotten cut short,” Perez said. “This year looks like it’s planning out the way we want (though). We just have to execute and do our job.”
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