MISSION — On a sweltering South Texas summer afternoon, the Mission High football team hit the practice field to prepare for the upcoming season. The Eagles have been focusing in on one goal this offseason: improving one step at a time.
On Wednesday at Tom Landry Stadium, that meant running through the special teams ringer. The afternoon was devoted to the minutiae of place holding, punt coverage and returning, and Mission head coach Koy Detmer — like a foreman roving around a construction site — monitored every little detail and watched as the building blocks of his team began to fall into place.
“We’ve put a lot of emphasis on our special teams already,” Detmer said. “We want the kids to know that it’s that important to us, that we’re going to take a designated practice to special teams.”
Make no mistake, however, the Eagles are a special team. Mission returns 14 starters — eight on offense, six defensively — along with 31 lettermen from last year’s team, each of which are the most of any team in District 30-6A.
Detmer, now in his fourth season coaching Mission, is beginning to see the fruits of that familiarity — with the system and between teammates — pay off with such a large returning group.
“Having kids come in as freshmen already learning your system and knowing it, and also knowing it a little bit from the junior high level, it’s a big deal,” Detmer said. “It certainly helps having experience coming back, anybody will tell you that. But it doesn’t necessarily guarantee anything and that’s something that we’ve talked about with our players: every year will stand on its own. We’re excited that we have a lot of returning players and a lot of guys that have worked very hard and have waited their time for this year. It gives you the ability to be more versatile on both sides of the ball and special teams.”
That offensive versatility should already have other teams on notice. Among the returning playmakers for the Eagles are sophomore quarterback Jeremy Duran and tight end Rey Garcia.
Garcia is a frightening force at tight end, creating mismatches all over the field with his imposing 6-foot-3, 245-pound frame. Duran, meanwhile, filled in admirably for Mission in 2018, racking up 1,475 yards through the air and 14 passing touchdowns in six starts as a freshman.
“We have a pretty good team this year and a very explosive offense,” Duran said at The Monitor’s Media Days. “I bring my team up and play with some fire, so I bring some energy to the team and I just play my game. We have a good passing game, our receivers are loaded and then our running backs are so tough to bring down. Our offense is pretty balanced and we’re a pretty uptempo offense.”
The staple of the Eagles pro-style, multiple offense though is the potent backfield duo of Tito Moronta and Andrew Maldonado, who combined for 1,467 rushing yards, 16 touchdowns and more than five yards a carry as the focal point of the offense last season.
“(Two guys to watch) are most definitely Tito Moronta and Andrew Maldonado, our running backs,” said Mission senior left guard Stephen Alvarez at The Monitor’s Media Days. “They bring a lot of energy to the team and you’ve got to watch out for them.”
“Our district is loaded with running backs and we’re very fortunate to have two,” Detmer said. “We have two really top of the line guys and we feel they’re really, we feel, interchangeable for each other in that way. They both are really good ball carriers, strong physical guys with good speed. They both are really good blockers and smart, team-oriented players.”
The diversity of that offensive attack will enable the Eagles to ramp up the tempo and experiment with some new ideas offensively, a luxury many of their opponents don’t have at this early stage in the season.
“We’re a team that tries to have (high) quality in both the run and the pass to where when we’re facing a team, we can try to take advantage of whatever they’re giving us or we may be able to attack based on what their defense is,” Detmer said. “We do try to keep a balance there and try to make teams as much as possible have to defend the whole field and both (the run and pass). It helps being able to do both.”
Given that existing team chemistry, experience and offensive flexibility, it’s no surprise that expectations are high already. Dave Campbell’s Texas Football magazine picked Mission as its preseason favorite to win District 30-6A.
Detmer and the Eagles said the goal is to soar to a district championship and deep into the state playoffs. But they’re aware of the target that’s been placed on their back, and for now it’s all about staying together and slowly improving one step at a time.
“We talked about it as a team, as a matter of fact I addressed it with them today. None of those things mean anything,” Detmer said. “We’ve got to stay in the moment one day at a time, one rep at a time and one game at a time. If we stay there and are working hard, getting after it, preparing ourselves and then go execute in games, then we have a chance to be in the mix. But we have to stay focused on the task at hand: one day at a time.”
The Eagles will kick off the season against Mission Veterans in the “Battle of Conway” on Aug. 30 at Tom Landry Stadium in Mission.