McALLEN — McAllen Rowe senior Derek Luna, the Warriors’ Swiss Army knife on the football field and one of the Rio Grande Valley’s top linebackers, signed a national letter of intent to play college football at Texas Lutheran University in Seguin during a signing ceremony Wednesday evening at Nikki Rowe Stadium.
“I’m pumped and excited to continue to play football, the sport that I love, at the next level. I’m just really happy and excited, very excited,” Luna said.
Luna has the best pair of hands on any linebacker throughout the RGV, and it’s no coincidence.
Luna, who attended McAllen High as a freshman and sophomore, began his high school football career at wide receiver playing for the Bulldogs before being moved to outside linebacker.
But his versatility as a playmaker only improved after transferring to Rowe for his junior season and he quickly became a jack of all trades for the Warriors on the gridiron.
“I started playing linebacker my junior year,” Luna said. “They needed me to fill in at linebacker, so I filled in and just went on from there. I’ve always had hands and I’ve worked on them because I was a wide receiver, but now that I’m a linebacker it has definitely paid off.”
“He was a three-year letterman for us here at Nikki Rowe, a two-time all-district player and not only one side of the football, but an all-district player on both offense and defense,” McAllen Rowe athletic coordinator and head football coach Bobby Flores said. “That hasn’t been done here in a long, long time. That’s what separated him from other athletes.”
On top of being one of the Warriors’ defensive leaders as a senior, Luna stepped up big for Rowe at slot receiver when the team needed him most due to a string of injuries.
Luna not only plugged a hole for Rowe at receiver but thrived in his new role.
On top of tallying 43 tackles, a sack, two forced fumbles and two more fumble recoveries, the Warriors’ senior also ranked third on the team with 320 receiving yards on 15 catches for four scores.
“I think I just helped the team most with energy,” he said. “I can’t say it was all me because it was all about the team. We helped each other and I just stepped up whenever I needed to step up.”
Luna was also the ultimate example of the perfect teammate and a tireless worker.
The Rowe senior played offense, defense and special teams in his final season and accounted for two of the team’s most significant plays of the year.
Luna took a direct snap as part of a fake punt and charged forward to pick up a critical first down to help the Warriors shock Weslaco High in a 44-41 Week 1 win. He swung momentum decidedly back in Rowe’s favor again during a District 30-6A contest against La Joya High where Luna intercepted a pitch and ran it back 55 yards to the house for a defensive touchdown in a one-possession game.
“He said, ‘I’ll play wherever the team needs me.’ That type of attitude is what separated Derek from a lot of the other players we’ve had,” Flores said. “He was always willing to do whatever the team needs and whatever it takes to win. To be very honest, as a coach, there’s not much more that you can ask for.”
Luna’s mindset is one that’s been shared by fellow teammates Josiah Alonzo and Jonas Ortiz, as well as the rest of the Warriors’ Class of 2020 that helped the program reach new heights.
Despite a spring semester interrupted by the global coronavirus pandemic, Luna and his fellow seniors led Rowe to its first bi-district playoff win since 2007 and leave the school as its most decorated class of football seniors in decades.
“It’s been our group mentality forever. Family: that’s our mentality. You have to work with what you have; you can’t work with what you wish you could have,” Luna said.
“It feels awesome because they know all the hard work that we put in. Nobody sees that behind the scenes, but that hard work that we put in, it paid off. I’m glad and I wouldn’t have wanted to do it with anybody else.”
Luna joins a wide-ranging group of Valley high school football stars moving north to Seguin for fall camp. He’ll be joined by PSJA North guard Frankie Saucedo, PSJA High outside linebacker Jayden Arrington, former teammate and McHi middle linebacker Trace Gagne and Weslaco High defensive end Elijah Estevanes.
Together, Arrington, Gagne and Luna will join forces in the Bulldogs’ linebacking corps with the trio representing three of District 30-6A’s 10 leading tacklers at the position with all three earning all-district honors in 2019 and each picked as 2020 West Valley all-stars by the Rio Grande Valley Coaches Association.
“It’s awesome. You get to talk to people you used to play against and have that connection. We know each other plays and it’s cool how a lot of guys from the Valley are moving up to the collegiate level. I’m glad to be one of them,” Luna said.
“It’s hard work. There’s a dream and you have to make it a reality. You have to have that drive to do it and you can’t think, ‘Oh well, it’s going to come.’ I think that’s what the Valley has been representing a lot lately because all of us work hard and we know that we’re under-looked. We want to be looked (at).”