McALLEN — When players at McAllen High donned their shoulder pads and helmets for the first time in months in mid-August, they were ready to take the field with one shared mission. The team ended the 2018 season with a disappointing 2-8 record, and it was eager to prove that this year would not be a repeat.
But now with a new coach, quarterback, offense and mindset, the Bulldogs are chomping at the bit to prove to people — in no uncertain terms — that they have righted the ship and can hang with any team any given Friday.
“We want to dramatically improve from last year,” senior safety Jackson Helmcamp said. “That’s our goal.”
First-year head coach Patrick Shelby has positioned himself as an agent for change at McHi. Shelby — a first-time head coach — takes over on the sideline for the Bulldogs after serving as the offensive coordinator at Edinburg Vela for three years and then at Weslaco High for two.
He’ll try to bring a few new things over from his last coaching stop, namely a new-look offense, a winning culture and a new team mindset.
“I think the biggest thing is just the culture and the mindset,” Shelby said. “I think if we can get the culture and the mindset in these kids just like we had in the kids over at (Weslaco), then we’ll be fine. We’ve got the guys who can do it, now we’ve just got to change that mindset.”
Shelby’s play calling and offensive system helped propel the Panthers to a 9-1 regular season finish and a deep postseason run into the third round of the playoffs. Since the beginning of preseason camp, he’s been trying to install the same scheme at McHi.
“We’re running a spread offense. We want to be 50-50 in everything that we do, run and pass,” he said. “But we want to try to make sure that when we go out there we operate, we take care of the football and we can move down the field little by little and get in that end zone.
“We want to be able to use the whole field and utilize everybody that we have, take advantage of what we’ve got and sit back and really spread the wealth. I think the kids like it because now they understand that anyone can get the ball any play, so everybody’s got to be locked in and ready.”
The new spread approach has the Bulldogs excited about their offensive potential. Senior tight end Ed Castillo is looking forward to seeing his team air it out and spread the ball across the field in 2019.
“We’re running a spread offense so we’re looking to spread the field,” Castillo said. “Quarterbacks need to make the right reads; receivers need to know their assignments. Sometimes the route might not be open or designed to catch the ball, but to free up other receivers.”
Shelby said he believes his team is picking up the new offense quicker than expected. But even if McHi’s offense stumbles out of the gate, the team will have a veteran defense — which returns seven starters — to lean on in the season’s early going.
“A lot of our seniors were brought up to varsity sophomore year, so then we had to learn a new playbook. So we don’t look at it as a whole new playbook, we just look at it as something new that is a challenge to us to do well,” Helmcamp said. “We can rely on each other. We don’t have to try to be selfish and try to do someone else’s job because we know that they can get it done themselves.”
Joining Helmcamp — a three-year starter and all-district linebacker last season — on McHi’s talented defensive unit will be lockdown corner David Chiquito and defensive end Cirr Aredando, who should be the cornerstone of the team’s fearsome pass rush.
Offensively, Castillo and receivers Octavian Lewis and Aldo Morin will give the Bulldogs plenty of options in the passing game, while running back Troy Martinez should provide valuable yardage a runner and pass-catcher out of the backfield.
McHi’s offense will also be buoyed by a big experienced offensive line led by Joshua Vallerio, which should give the quarterback plenty of time to operate. The only question is who will be the Bulldogs’ starting quarterback: punter Robert Amador or former-receiver Felipe Magana?
“We’re still open right now,” Shelby said. “They’re working their butts off, working extremely hard and they’re getting better every single day. Right now, those guys are staying at it, they’re working hard and we’ll find out once we get rolling.”
“Both of those guys are great. They both have talents; they’re both really good at their own thing,” Castillo said. “They’ve just got to go out there and do their thing. May the best man win.”
Regardless of who earns the starting gig, Shelby believes this team has a chance to do something special and make some noise in Year 1.
“I want to see the kids come out and play hard every single night,” Shelby said. “We want to see the kids get better and understand and have the knowledge that they need to go far into our district and have an opportunity to compete to get into the playoffs.”
The Bulldogs begin their 2019 season with a road match against Brownsville Lopez at 7 p.m. Saturday at Sams Memorial Stadium in Brownsville.