Ushering in change: All hands at McAllen High football are pulling the rope under new leadership

PSJA High Robert Grimaldo sacks McHi quarterback Brian Garza in the third quarter at McAllen Veterans Memorial Stadium on Thursday ,Oct. 25, 2018, in McAllen.

BY NATHANIEL MATA | STAFF WRITER

McALLEN — Change is in the air at McAllen High. The changes are program-wide and spread beyond the annual heat that traditionally comes with the end of spring football and the end of another school year.

To guide that process, rookie head coach Patrick Shelby is in the trenches with the Bulldogs to put his imprint on the program he took over in January before the athletes and coaches disperse for the summer.

If one wants excitement about the program, search no further than soon-to-be senior Julian Lopez. The offensive lineman will be back for his second varsity season, and with only a few days of spring ball left, he was in high spirits.

“Everything’s new. Everybody likes new things,” Lopez said. “(We) can’t wait to get back to this new season. It’s going to be great. We’re learning new things — new plays, new everything. It’s going to be a good season for everybody.”

After missing the playoffs the past two of the last three years, McHi opted for a change in leadership after watching its offense struggle in 2018.

“If you’re afraid of change, then you’re really not going to change,” Lopez said. “It’s better to change because you’re evolving with everybody else. You don’t wanna stay down there, not going anywhere. You want to move forward.”

The Bulldogs went 2-8 last season. But the roster looks different now, with new and familiar faces wearing pads.

WHAT’S REALLY NEW?

Aaron Nixon, a baseball standout, is back for another football season after opting to forego his junior year. The last time he played football, as a sophomore, his connection with receiver Gunnar Henderson, and reliable carries by rusher Roy Gutierrez, were enough to get the team into the 2017 playoffs.

To muster more than the paltry 784 rushing and 695 passing yardage totals from a year ago, the Bulldogs will need more than just Nixon under center. It will also need a supporting cast.

Luckily for McHi, that seems to be forming around him. Octavian Lewis, who dealt with injuries last season, was one of many McHi tailbacks that missed time with injury. Lewis is an option in the backfield or in the slot, along with returners like Felipe Magana and Aldo Morin. Running back Troy Martinez will have a chance to play after missing last season with a broken ankle.

Elijah West and Caleb Killian are also notable baseball standouts that will be additions to the football roster in the fall.

The biggest change still is on the sidelines. Shelby comes from Weslaco High and brings with him former Weslaco colleague, defensive coordinator Ernie Alonzo.

“It was real good to see the kids,” Shelby said. “They give great energy. They’re enthusiastic about what they’re doing. You can tell they love being around their teammates, and you’re starting to see that come full circle with the team.”

Not everything has changed at McHi. While Alonzo and company plan to implement an attack-first mentality, especially on defense, they will still have a strong group that specializes in limiting teams.

Even through their recent struggles, a formidable defense has been a staple of the program.

And even though the point total against the Bulldogs last year was higher than they would have liked (287), the number inflated due to McHi’s inability to hang onto the ball or even give the defense long enough breaks on the sideline.

Linebacker Trace Gagne is back for his third varsity season. Gagne, along with David Chiquito and Jackson Helmcamp, will enter 2019 as seniors determined to succeed.

“We’ve been out there every day in the weight room, and here on the field we’ve been pushing ourselves,” Gagne said. “We’ve been doing agility drills. We’re just motivating each other to get better.”

nmata@themonitor.com