PHARR — Despite a very successful 2018 campaign, PSJA North remains hungry for more and the team enters a new season with a big chip on its shoulders.
After a few close losses to begin the year, the Raiders rallied to finish the season with a 7-5 mark to reach the playoffs. Once there, they became the only school from District 30-6A to advance past the first round by topping Laredo United South, but fell in a dramatic second-round loss to San Benito, 43-35, in overtime.
The two big disappointments for PSJA North last season: dropping a heartbreaker in the area round and watching cross-town rival PSJA High clinch a district title after coming up short against the Bears, 10-7, in the regular season.
That has put a fire in the bellies of senior quarterback Iziaah Rangel and his teammates, who are intent on wresting away the district crown from their rivals and reach for new heights.
“It makes us want to work harder each and every day just keeping that itch on our back,” Rangel said. “Our goals are to get district, make the playoffs and do something there.”
Senior defensive back and wide receiver Seven Sanchez, one of the Raiders’ top playmakers on each side of the ball, more succinctly summed up his team’s goals: zero losses and zero points allowed.
“Win every game. That’s it,” Sanchez said of his team’s aspirations. “We want to shut out a lot more teams. We only shut out one last year and we’re hoping to do that a lot more this year.”
That could be a tall order based upon the depth of District 30-6A, which many believe constitutes the toughest, most competitive league throughout the Valley. Head coach Marcus Kaufmann hopes his team can continue to successfully navigate through a difficult district schedule.
“This district from top to bottom is insanely tight. From one week to the next, anybody can beat anybody, anybody can be first place, anybody could be last place and you never know which one is which,” Kaufmann said. “We’ve had some teams lose to teams they thought they shouldn’t have and beat teams they shouldn’t have beat. It’s crazy. Last year was crazy and it’s going to be exactly the same this year.”
PSJA North might just be the team to achieve those lofty goals, though. The team returns 20 lettermen and 12 starters from last year’s group, highlighted by Rangel and Sanchez.
Sanchez — who was tabbed by Dave Campbell’s Texas Football magazine as the district’s preseason defensive MVP — wreaked havoc on opposing offenses from virtually every spot on the field. The do-everything defensive star recorded 109 tackles and 16 tackles for loss as a junior, and tallied eight sacks and three interceptions, as well.
He also added 322 yards and two receiving touchdowns on offense in 2018. He’ll lead a talented defensive unit which returns five starters.
“To me, it’s just amazing thinking that I can help my team out that way,” Sanchez said. “Adjusting to the competition is what makes the game fun.”
He’ll be joined on the defensive side by physical defensive tackle Joel Iracheta and standout linebacker Aaron Alvarez, who racked up 100 tackles and 18 sacks a season ago, in the Raiders’ 4-2-5 defensive scheme.
Offensively, Rangel will look to build on an insanely productive first season at PSJA North. He threw for 1,707 yards, ran for 1,336 rushing yards and collected 21 total touchdowns through the air and on the ground.
“Last year we had our quarterback, it was his first year, and he was a 1,500-yard rusher and a 1,500-yard passer,” Kaufmann said. “He did a great job.”
The second-year signal caller transferred over to PSJA North from Edinburg North after his sophomore year, just in time for a spot to open up at the position. He proved to be dynamic last season, but now with a year under his belt, he’s hoping his familiarity with the offensive playbook allow he and his teammates to expand the offense schematically and boost its point production.
“The transition last year was good. I came over here and was welcomed with open arms,” he said. “Everyone was just being cool with me and I just fit right in.
“It’s always easier. Already knowing what I need to do, knowing my reads and everything. I’m very comfortable with everything. The coaches make it easy for me each play.”
Joining Rangel on an explosive PSJA North offense will be speedy senior wide receiver John Garza, who snagged 28 passes for 322 yards and two touchdowns last season, and sophomore running back Isaac Gonzalez.
Gonzalez was breakout playmaker for the Raiders during his freshman season, rushing for 935 yards and 12 touchdowns and added 119 yards and a score as a receiver out of the backfield. He also boasted six 100-yard rushing games and an astounding 8.2 yard per carry in 2018.
PSJA North returns to the gridiron for its first game of the season against another cross-town rival, the PSJA Southwest Javelinas, at 7:30 p.m. on Aug. 30 at PSJA Stadium.