RIO GRANDE CITY — Leo Mireles grew up playing football wearing the Roma red before going on to play for the Red Raiders at Texas Tech. And after spending years coaching on both sides of the ball in Laredo, Mireles is back donning red in Starr County, this time as a first-year head coach for the Rio Grande City Rattlers.

His first task: changing the culture of a program that hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2013.

“They’ve responded well and I’ve been very impressed by them,” Mireles said after the Rattlers’ first full week of practice. “They want change and they’re tired of not making the playoffs. They’re hungry and I’m excited for a great season.”

Mireles brings with him plenty of postseason experience as his teams reached the playoffs 12 times in his 14 years coaching at Laredo Nixon, Laredo Alexander and Laredo United. Now, this group of Rattlers is excited to play for their new head coach and have already bought in to the changes.

“He knows what it takes to get to the playoffs and what it takes to get a district championship, so we like the changes he’s brought,” junior safety Eleazar Garcia said of Mireles.

Senior quarterback Mario Garza started the season as the Rattlers’ signal caller in 2018 but suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 4 against Mission Veterans. He’s healed and ready to lead Rio’s spread offense, but he’s also turned into a leader off the field.

“Mario’s excited and been doing real good. He’s taken the younger quarterbacks under his wing and he leads by example,” Mireles said. “He wants change and he wants to be in the playoffs.”

Garza said he remained hungry and humble the entire time he was sidelined.

“I’ve been humble and stayed working. I know I let my teammates down last year, but this year I’m trying to come out and put the team on my back,” he said. “We have three returning receivers, a running back in his third year starting, we’re going to be able to run the ball and throw the ball.”

That third-year starter is Angel Galvan, who is coming off a season in which he recorded 668 total yards and seven touchdowns. Clearing the way for Galvan and Garza are four returners at offensive line with the size and strength to overpower opponents.

On the flip side, the Rattlers are changing from an odd-man front to an even-man front, but Garcia and the RGC defense are hoping to be the No. 1 unit in district.

“We have some different personnel, but I feel we’re going to be fast to the ball and I like what I’ve seen from the defense,” Mireles said.

The Rattlers are scheduled to open the season with a Week 1 rivalry game against Roma, Mireles’ alma mater.

“Right now that we have to go 1-0. It’s important that we focus on first things first. We have immediate goals and long term goals in making the playoffs and competing for a district title, but have to take care of business with our first game,” Mireles said.

The Starr County Super Bowl is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on Aug. 30 at Joe R. Sanchez Stadium in Rio Grande City.