PSJA North football coach Marcus Kaufmann is a big man. He’s also loud and tenacious on the sidelines, a coach who picks his battles, and passionately defends his squad and staff. “You can tell what I’m thinking and what I want to say,” he says, “even if I don’t say it.”

Likewise, his Raiders are a living embodiment of that vitality and fierceness  – and it never showed more than last year as PSJA North went 7-5 in District 30-6A, which seemed like everyone was still in contention for a playoff spot until the final week.

For the rest of the district, the PSJA North Raiders may have been a surprise. They finished with the top defense and second most proficient offense in 30-6A. Three of their losses could’ve gone either way – against Harlingen (24-23), rival PSJA (10-7) and San Benito in the second round of the playoffs (43-35 in overtime).

“We make one play against the Bears and we’re district champs,” said Kaufmann, who begins his fourth year at the helm of the Raiders. “Same thing with San Benito, we make one play and we’re area champs.”

He says that not haphazardly or as a cliché. In fact, spring football this year had a major emphasis on attention to detail, staying focused for a full 48 minutes and discipline. Kaufmann said those are the things that could turn a 7-5 season into something greater.

“One play in high school football, even if you’re a touchdown or two better than the other team, can still cost you a game,” Kaufmann said. “I feel like we are stronger and faster than last year but we have to stay focused for the full 48 minutes.”

As the Raiders have transitioned as a program over the past year, so has Kaufmann as a coach. He came from McAllen Memorial and remembers some of the growing pains taking over the reins as a rookie head coach.

“I fee l like I’ve grown, especially about the little things in football that aren’t so little in the long run,” he said. “When I first got here I was thinking about this team and thinking about that we had to win that year and I forgot about building programs. I forgot that when a kid got hurt ‘oh shoot, I need backups,’ things like that.

“Now we’re working hard in the offseason, getting kids to buy in and believe at the lower levels. We want them emotionally invested, 100 percent in whatever it is they’re doing.”

He said a recent conversation with the school principal gave some confirmation as far as the results the program is looking for, which goes beyond just the gridiron.

“She said the seniors are going to class and finishing and not causing problems – this is all part of building a program,” he said. “A lot are talking about going to college. If you care about what you are doing, you are working to be the best you can be at whatever it is. We’re not 100 percent, but you can see the kids are buying in.”

When the team hits the field in the fall, missing will be the versatile Arturo Beltran, who finished with close to 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving. “He was our go to guy on offense,” Kaufmann said. “It’s a big loss, but we’re now preparing kids to be ready.”

Of course, returning is Izaiah Rangel who will once again commandeer the potent offense. Rangel quietly came close to 1,500 yards passing and 1,500 yards rushing, doing it week in and out after somewhat of a slow start. Kaufmann said the senior should be more potent this year.

“You look at his final stats and you’re like ‘3,000 yards? Huh.’ He did it so efficiently,” Kaufmann said. “We saw in spring his downhill running is stronger and his mindset it right. He can see more downfield too. He got thrown into the fire last year but this spring you could tell that everything slowed down for him.”

Running back Isaac Gonzalez gave everyone a preview of things to come last year as a freshman. Kaufmann described him simply as “a force.”

“Once he matures and learns to stay focused, he’s going to be something. I think he’s already one of the top backs around,” said Kaufmann, who played his high school ball at Abilene High School. “And we’ve got Jonathan Arias as a fullback in front of him – he’s big and pretty fast and nobody really saw them.”

Kaufmann said another reason that the team possibly mirrors his and his staff’s personality is because they see it working.

“When I got here a lot of the kids were doing stuff for themselves, like kids will go,” Kaufmann said. “But we started teaching them that if they stop looking for the attention and work to give the attention to everybody else, you’ll end up getting it. If the team succeeds, you succeed. There is no more ‘I’m gonna get mine mentality.’ That permeates the entire group. We don’t do that here.”