Frank Hernandez was part of a few historic moments in college football history, but his heart always goes back to the Rio Grande Valley.
“I played in what is considered the greatest turnaround at Kansas State,” Hernandez said. “Then I was lucky enough to be on the staff that launched the football program at the University of South Florida, which is one of the most successful openings of a Division I-A football program.”
Hernandez played his high school ball at Mission High and to this day he credits much of his success to the lessons he learned with the Eagles.
“I have a lot of great memories from those years,” Hernandez said. “The pep rallies and the pageantry of Friday night football and the playoffs and all those things in between will never ever be forgotten.
“When we were winning games at Mission High School, our coaches were a lot like (Kansas State coach) Bill Snyder. They would monitor our progress and they kept us in tuned to what we were doing right and what we were doing wrong. Little did I know that what I endured in high school was going to prepare me for what Bill Snyder and his staff were going to introduce to me four years down the road.”
Hernandez played for a prolific pass offense at Mission from 1984-87. Hernandez had 98 receptions, 1,757 receiving yards and 27 touchdowns in his senior season. He finished his three-year varsity career with 169 receptions, 2,723 receiving yards and 44 TDs. His success in high school led him to accept a scholarship at Kansas State where he had four successful years.
For his success on the football field, Frank Hernandez will be inducted into the RGV Sports Hall of Fame. Hernandez is one of nine honorees to be celebrated at this year’s ceremony, which will take place Saturday at the Boggus Ford Events Center in Pharr.
“That is a humbling honor,” Hernandez said. “It’s one that I am very thankful for. Anytime that anybody gets recognized for team accomplishments it’s a reflection of a whole lot of people involved.”
Hernandez’s route to college football wasn’t an easy one.
“Recruiting back then wasn’t like it is today,” Henrnadez said. “There weren’t many Division I-A athletes that had come out of Mission prior to 1988. Its not like we were a recruiting hotbed of sort.”
Hernandez wasn’t recruited by any schools in Texas. He said his coaches made the decision to send his tape to Kansas State, since one of the coaches on the Mission staff had previously worked at K-State. That tape earned Hernandez his offer from the school.
Once Hernandez arrived at Kansas State, he made an impact right away. His 20 receptions his freshman year still rank fifth all-time among freshmen at the school. The team, however, was in a bit of turmoil. The Wildcats went winless in ’88, Hernandez’s freshman year. Just four games into the season, Kansas State parted ways with coach Stan Parish.
In Hernandez’s sophomore year, the program was changed forever by the hire of Snyder.
“I could tell that there was something different (about Snyder as a coach),” Hernandez said. “He was so meticulous and had such an attention to detail. … He monitored every little step of what it takes to turn a football program around. He was supported by some tremendous coaches. You definitely could tell that something was different.”
In his sophomore campaign, Hernandez played a major part in snapping the Wildcats’ 30-game winless streak and getting his new coach, Snyder, his first win with the program.
Kansas State hosted North Texas State in the fourth game of the season. The Wildcats trailed 17-14 heading into the final drive. On the first play of the drive, Kansas State quarterback Carl Straw was sacked. On the following play, Straw looked deep to Hernandez. Hernandez couldn’t get to the pass, but there was a good reason he couldn’t, as the referees whistled for pass interference. The penalty gave the Wildcats new life and they picked up momentum, driving from their own 13 to the Eagles’ 12 in less than a minute. With four seconds on the clock, Hernandez lined up out wide on the left side. He made a beeline for the pylon and caught the ball just as he crossed into the end zone to seal the win.
“We were not a very good football team, so it was definitely a signature win,” Hernandez said. “For it to come down to the last play of the game was pretty amazing.”
For his career at Kansas State, Hernandez caught 120 passes for 1,489 yards and nine touchdowns.
After his playing days, Hernandez began coaching. He coached at PSJA North for one year and at Mission High with coach Sonny Detmer for three years. He then joined the college ranks and had stops at USF, University of Wyoming, University of Houston, and Texas State.
Hernandez and his wife Victoria, who is also from the Valley, have been married for more than 20 years. They have three children Frank, Christian and Marcus. Hernandez now lives in Houston where he is a regional sales director for a medical equipment company. He still comes back to the Valley regularly, and he still has a special place in his heart for the area.
“I love South Texas,” Hernandez said. “I love the Rio Grande Valley. I give my coaches and teachers and friends and family a lot of credit. Humbly speaking, I have been very lucky and very blessed to be around some tremendous people, and I want them to know that more than anything.”