McALLEN — For McAllen Rowe senior quarterback Jonas Ortiz, it’s been a long road to a 5-0 district record.
At the halfway point of the season, Ortiz has helped push the Warriors to an undefeated season after years of game action, untimely injuries and lifetime of football have helped prepare him to lead his team by example.
Ortiz has started behind center for the Warriors since his sophomore season, logging 24 games and starting in each since he first earned the starting job. He led Rowe to a playoff appearance as a young up-and-comer two seasons ago and kept the team in playoff contention until a late-season injury forced him to sit out the final two weeks.
All those repetitions and experience have helped prepare Ortiz for senior campaign that’s seen him jump out to one of the best starts of any Valley quarterback this season and play like one of the smartest signal callers in the area, too.
“Him being in our system for three years and him getting together with our offensive coordinator and understand week to week what he’s looking for has helped him. He brings that experience factor along with being a student of the game and studying the defense helps him week to week,” Rowe head coach Bobby Flores said. “That’s been a huge difference for us. There may be some defense that changes it up on him, whether it be the secondary or linebackers, and he’s able to see it and make the adjustments we need for us to continue to make drives.”
“I just took that experience and played with it,” Ortiz said. “It hasn’t been too different from those other years, but the experience has definitely helped by keeping me relaxed in the pocket and just doing what I can do.”
His comfort level and football IQ started to build from a young age, being a coach’s son. Ortiz’s father, Jimmy, works as the defensive coordinator at Grulla, and Ortiz credits him for exposing him to football knowledge, coaches’ expectations and the need for a strong work ethic early on during his football career.
“Sometimes it could be tough, but it definitely does help a lot. Being around a coach and always having a coach’s perspective helps because there’s someone there to help you all the time,” Ortiz said. “I think I definitely learned what work ethic has always been about. Always having someone there for me, telling me to push myself and do better in everything. And not just sports, but school and academics.”
It’s an approach that has helped Ortiz elevate his performance on and off the field. He approaches any game like a classroom test, studying all available materials and preparing for any possible scenarios.
“It’s about being a smart quarterback, knowing the situation I’m in, knowing what to do when the ball comes to me, making the right read and knowing the people that are on the field,” he said. “I’ve really learned from my mistakes in the past and it’s helped me be the quarterback that I am right now and not make mental errors and mistakes.”
It’s that work ethic and dedication — both on and off the gridiron — that has made Ortiz such an effective leader.
“He leads by example,” Flores said. “There’s no doubt that he works hard. I will put him up against any other quarterback as far work ethic is concerned. He’s one of the first ones here and one of the last ones to get out. He always through the summer has worked really hard to develop his game. He’s like another coach to us. He’s been able to stay healthy, which is important, and we hope that we can continue to keep him healthy so that he can continue to lead our group.”
“I’ve always tried to be a leader, ever since I was a freshman coming into high school trying to lead the freshman team to when I was a sophomore on varsity,” Ortiz said. “Even though I was young, I tried to lead by example and show the younger guys what I’m doing. It’s the same thing now: I just try to lead by example and show the younger kids coming up that it’s good to be a leader and show good work ethic on the team.”
All that hard work has paid dividends for Ortiz and the Warriors in the early going, as he’s led to Rowe to a pair of come-from-behind wins to help the team cruise to wins in the opening weeks of district play.
He’s leading all of the quarterbacks in 30-6A with 16 touchdown passes and a 77% completion percentage, making him the only gunslinger in district to be completing his passes at a 60% clip or above.
It’s been Ortiz’s mental acuity and preparedness that has set he and the Warriors apart from their competition in the season’s opening half.
“We rep a lot of our plays and he’s in practice seeing over and over what we’re hoping to look for and that transitions into the game. In certain situations where you can’t really always prepare for, he’s really able to see it now,” Flores said. “With experience, he’s able to understand situations where he’s not going to force stuff in there to put us in a bad situation and also he makes smart decisions with the football. He knows when he can take advantage of it and when it’s probably good to throw it away or go to the next down, so we have a chance to execute the next play or get the first down.”
Ortiz has tossed eight touchdown passes in Rowe’s first two district games, which were both big wins. Against Juarez-Lincoln, he completed 13-of-14 passes for more than 200 yards and four scores through the air.
He’s only thrown one interception through five contests, making him the only quarterback in 30-6A without multiple giveaways. He’ll need to continue to play smart and limit mistakes with the Warriors’ first big test in a while coming up in the form of a stingy PSJA North defense that thrives on takeaways.
It’ll kick off a difficult stretch of games for the Warriors, who will face three playoff teams from a year ago in what will be a make-or-break part of their district schedule. But for Otriz and his teammates, it’s all about maintaining continuity and prepare like he has every week for the past three seasons.
“We’re getting ready for them just like we would any other team. They’re a great team and a great defense, but we know what we’ve got to do to win this game,” he said. “We feel like it’s an opportunity and a challenge. Those teams beat us last year, but last year doesn’t mean much anymore. We’re trying to take it week by week. We’re not too worried about the game after this one. We’re worried about what we have right now and getting ready for that one.”
The McAllen Rowe Warriors (5-0, 2-0), ranked No. 5 in the latest RGVSports.com poll, square off against the PSJA North Raiders (3-2, 1-1) at 7:30 tonight at McAllen Veterans Memorial Stadium.