LA JOYA — When La Joya High hits the gridiron, opponents know they’re going to be in for a long night trying to stop a team that plays a special brand of football.
The team plays with a unique style and mentality that both set them apart from every other team in District 30-6A and help define the Coyotes.
“They’re going to see Coyote football,” head coach Reuben Farias said about his team’s one-of-a-kind style of play. “Coyote football is fast and aggressive and physical and a lot of fun.”
It’s the kind of mentality that’s not seen, but felt on the field. La Joya brings a rare combination of size, speed and physicality not often seen in the high school ranks, and it’s personified in the Coyotes ground-and-pound rushing attack.
“Our running game is very good. That’s what we do most of the time,” senior center Remi Duran said. “We try to get a couple of passes here and there, but we’re mostly just pounding it down the field and running it. Running, running, running it.”
The La Joya offense in 2019 might be the most well-suited unit to exemplify what Coyote football is all about in quite a long time.
Farias’ squad returns six offensive starters that were a part of one of the top rushing offenses in the Valley in 2018, racking up a district-high 296 yards per game on the ground. Returning for their senior seasons are Duran and offensive lineman Alex Rodriguez, two big blockers up front with lots of experience setting the table for a hungry backfield.
“The battle in the trenches is everything. That’s where everything starts up front,” Duran said. “We do have a big boy in the backfield, but everything starts in the front opening the holes for him and just making everything look good for him.”
But if the Coyotes’ prolific ground-and-pound system starts with Duran, Rodriguez and their fellow linemen up front, it stops without senior running back Eddie Villarreal.
Villarreal, a three-year letterman, was and remains La Joya’s workhorse back. As a junior he galloped 1,623 yards on the ground, second most in District 30-6A, and scored 22 rushing touchdowns on a district-high 252 carries.
Villarreal averaged a surreal 6.4 yards per carry and finished the season with nine straight games with more than 100 yards rushing.
“Being a three-year letterman, he brings a lot of physicality and confidence,” Farias said. “I know that when he’s in the game, he’s running the ball and as the game is going on, he’s so physical and he wears down defenses. We’ve just got to make sure he stays healthy.”
His 5-foot-9, 210-pound frame makes him extremely difficult to stop or slow down, and he’s known to run right over opposing defenses.
The Coyotes will go as far as Villarreal can carry them, somewhat literally. He says the team has its eyes set on high goals this season, but he’s mainly motivated by a desire to help his teammates.
“As a group we’re trying to make it to the playoffs and trying to compete for the district title,” Villarreal said. “As an individual, I just want to help the team as much as I can.”
Accompanying Villarreal in the La Joya backfield will be a revolving door of talented slot backs like Alejandro Hernandez, Anselmo Davila and Raymond Villegas — who combined for more than 500 yards and eight touchdowns between them last year.
This year, however, the team might also feature a revolving door of quarterbacks, too. The Coyotes are currently locked in a tight quarterback battle and there remains a possibility that there won’t be a clear-cut leader come Week 1.
They’re hoping that some fresh faces behind center can help open their passing game to diversify their offense.
“We’re trying to open things up because last year they would load the box,” Villarreal said. “We’re trying to give our receivers a chance and a-backs so we can spread everything out.
“If both of them battle it out, then all year long they’re going to be battling,” Farias said. “Both of them during the offseason and two-a-days have been working real hard and have been productive. That’s promising, so hopefully versus an opponent we’ll see what type of young men they can be.”
Defensively, the Coyotes will be a young bunch with a lot to replace especially along the defensive line. In their opening scrimmage against Raymondville, they struggled to contain the outside edges and put pressure on the quarterback.
The unit will be lead by a strong secondary of Villegas, Nelson Camero and Salvador Carmona — which has shown it can defend against the pass — and senior linebackers Josue Bermea and Danny Salinas manning the middle and stuffing a wide variety of rushing attacks.
“We just do what’ve gotta do,” Bermea said. “We see what motion they’re running and we just have to keep our eyes open and not get tunnel vision.”
The Coyotes will kick of their 2019 campaign with a cross-town rivalry game against La Joya Palmview at 7:30 p.m. on Aug. 30 at Loya ISD Stadium.