McALLEN — McAllen Memorial senior Joseph Lara, the Mustangs’ veteran quarterback with a rocket of an arm who helped lead the program to new heights, signed his national letter of intent to continue his academic and football career at Southwestern University in Georgetown during a ceremony Friday at Boxer Hernandez Stadium at McAllen Memorial High School.

“It just feels great to have a place to go to and be able to play ball again. I’m excited just to be able to ball out, find some new friends and have that band of football with my new teammates,” Lara said. “My family and I picked Southwestern because it’s close to home. It’ll be nice to be away from family but still close enough where we can visit each other. The coaches are very great at Southwestern and I can’t wait to get out there.”

“Joseph (Lara) did an outstanding job for us here at (McAllen) Memorial High School playing football and we had the privilege of having him here with us three years in a row,” McAllen Memorial head football coach and athletic coordinator Bill Littleton said.

Lara was surrounded by many of his senior teammates and the collective hardware they won in their time at Memorial: five glistening golden balls glinting in the South Texas sun representing the group’s three district championships and two bi-district titles.

“This senior class, you can see what they’ve done with these five footballs. They represent the senior Class of 2020, what they did and what they’ve done for Memorial High School. They’ve brought home five gold footballs to Memorial and we’re very proud of that,” Littleton said.

“We’re very proud of this class and we’re very proud of Joseph. He had an outstanding year and he’s not a selfish player and has always been about the team. He did a great job on and off the field leading us and I can’t say enough about him. I’m so proud that he found a place to go at Southwestern University. It’s a great day to be a Mustang again.”

Lara, who was a three-year varsity letterman, started 18 games at quarterback for the Mustangs between his junior and senior seasons. By signing with the Pirates, he also became the fifth consecutive McAllen Memorial signal caller to accept an offer to play college football.

“It feels great because coming from Memorial, it can be really tough for a quarterback because we’re pretty much a heavy-run team. There are times when you’re going to throw the ball, but if they really trust you, they’ll let you air it out,” Lara said.

“It’s an honor to be one of those five quarterbacks because over here at our school, we’re just a heavy-run team and I’m just proud of myself.”

McAllen Memorial’s Joseph Lara and many of his senior teammates pose for a photo. The Mustangs’ Class of 2020 helped the football program capture three district championships and clinch two area round playoff berths. Andrew McCulloch | The Monitor

Lara took over quarterback duties for the Mustangs halfway through his junior season and completed 25 of 47 pass attempts for 407 yards, four passing touchdowns and four interceptions.

But Lara developed into a deep-ball dime-dropper by his senior season at the helm of Memorial’s offense. He earned a reputation for consistently beating defenses over the top with dead-eye accuracy on long bombs downfield despite the Mustangs’ run-first approach.

“Every team predicted us very well and knew we were a heavy-run team, but they knew we could throw the ball so they let their defensive backs back up a little bit,” he said. “But we could still get it over there.”

The Mustangs’ senior signal caller tallied 1,074 yards through the air and 10 touchdown passes on 51-of-98 passing during his senior season, making the most of his opportunities to shine.

According to MaxPreps.com, Lara was only one of three quarterbacks across the state of Texas last season to throw for more than 1,000 yards with fewer than 100 pass attempts. He was also the only high school quarterback in Texas to hit the 1,000-yard mark with fewer than 60 completions.

“When I hear that play called and I’ve got to go in that huddle and tell the players I’m excited already because it’s my chance to shine,” he said. “I just take it as my opportunity and air the ball out and hopefully hit one of my receivers.”

The Mustangs’ gunslinger averaged an astounding 21.1 yards per completion as he helped lead the team to a share of the District 30-6A title and an area round playoff berth.

Four times during Memorial’s season Lara flipped field position instantaneously with outrageously long throws of 58, 59, 69 and 80 yards against La Joya Juarez-Lincoln, PSJA High, Brownsville Hanna and Weslaco High, respectively.

His late-game heroics helped the Mustangs charge back in several of the Valley’s most memorable gridiron moments from this past season with back-and-forth finishes against Hanna, Mission High, PSJA and Weslaco.

“There were so many moments for us,” Lara said. “We had some really big games, some blowouts, some tough games where we were down heading down the stretch and we had to come back. There were just so many great moments and really I’m blessed to have had them.”

amcculloch@themonitor.com