McALLEN — When the Warriors strapped on pads for the first time this preseason Wednesday at McAllen Rowe High School, one could hardly tell it was their first padded practice.
Rowe looked swift and slick running its up-tempo offense and defense on opposite ends of the field. If it weren’t for the scorching summer sun, one would have thought the team was already in mid-season form.
The Warriors are coming off a strong, but slightly disappointing, 2018 season that ended with a 5-5 record and a fifth-place finish in District 30-6A, narrowly missing a trip to the playoffs.
“It’s a new year and it’s a new group. We have kids that have played, but there are a lot of kids who are going to fill in,” head coach Bobby Flores said. “We’ve got to put in the work and get better, but as we go along though if they can continue to lead and these new players fall in place, it obviously gives you a better chance to be successful.”
Rowe returns a veteran group to power its up-tempo system. Twenty-six lettermen return for the team along with five offensive and six defensive starters, headlined by seniors quarterback Jonas Ortiz and middle linebacker Josiah Alonzo.
Ortiz was one of the top signal callers in the district a season ago, throwing for the second most yards in the league (1,777) to go along with a 63.8 completion percentage, 14 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
He’s a three-year starter for the Warriors, and led his team to a playoff berth in 2017 after being tossed into the fray as a sophomore mid-season.
He’s unquestionably one of the top quarterbacks in the district heading into his senior campaign, and Flores hopes his veteran leadership and familiarity with the team’s up-beat offensive system will vault Rowe back into the playoff picture.
“He not only knows the quarterback position, but I can confidently say he knows our offense from every position,” Flores said. “Having him there is like having a coach on the field. He doesn’t only get out here and perform, but he shows through his leadership skills. He’s here everyday, he’s the first one here and the last one to leave.”
Versatile running back Lorenzo Lopez and speedy receiver David Savage give the Warriors a pair of playmakers who are dangerous in space and complement their up-tempo scheme. Protecting Ortiz will be one of the most experienced offensive lines in the Valley, anchored by veteran offensive linemen Aalok Zimmerman, Daniel Alejandro and Jimmy Talamantes, among others.
In a league dominated by high-powered rushing offenses, dominating the trenches will be a major key to success.
“The trenches are everything,” Zimmerman said. “You’ve got to get protection for your quarterback so they can pass the ball and you’ve got to give space to you running back so they can run. It’s just really important to control the line the entire game.”
But the real strength for this senior-heavy Rowe squad is its stout defense, particularly its tough front seven led by Alonzo in the middle.
Alonzo was a defensive stalwart for the Warriors in 2018, tallying 96 tackles (14 for loss) and a pair of interceptions, too. He not only does a phenomenal job plugging holes and stopping the run, but also excels in pass coverage.
“He’s able to anticipate and that’s one of the things that he brings to the table,” Flores said. “He’s a very smart player. I think that having him out there will help us put guys in position on certain situations.”
Bookending Alonzo in the linebacking corps will be Emilio Topete and Derek Luna, who all played alongside one another during the 2018 season and should take a big collective step forward this year. Defensive lineman Erick Perales — who recorded 43 tackles, eight tackles for loss and two sacks — will also be a force up front for Rowe.
Together, this unit will be one of the area’s most capable at stopping the run, an invaluable skill for a team with playoff hopes in this competitive district.
“It just starts with our front d-line, so if we take care of that we can stop the run. We have a good defense coming back,” Alonzo said. “Every running back is the same and we don’t treat them any differently. Our goal is to stop whoever has the ball and that’s our main mission.”
The Warriors are dead-set on fulfilling two goals: becoming district and city champions. They’re hoping that familiarity and long-lasting chemistry can help carry them there.
“We pride ourselves on being a family and taking care of one another,” Flores said. “I’m hoping this gr
oup is the one that can take us over the top to do those things.”
Rowe kicks off this season with a Week 1 road matchup against Weslaco at 7:30 p.m. on Aug. 30.