EDINBURG — The Edinburg High Bobcats are preparing for a high school football season unlike any other with an incomparable duo in seniors Emmanuel Duron and Shandon Woodard.

Duron and Woodard — a pair of third-year starters — will be the anchors defensively and offensively this year, although a shortened season and complicating factors related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic have altered how they have had to get ready to play.

“We’re hoping that Manny (Duron) can take over, take the bull by the horn and lead this team to where it belongs,” Edinburg High head football coach J.J. Lejia said.

Duron, a First-Team All-Area pick by The Monitor and the District 31-6A Defensive Player of the Year as a junior in 2019, will be one of the most disruptive defensive linemen across the Rio Grande Valley this season.

He has tallied 102 tackles, eight sacks, 2 fumble recoveries, an interception and a forced fumble in 18 games over the past two seasons.

The Bobcats’ senior defensive leader possesses a unique blend of size, speed and strength. He also advanced to the UIL State Wrestling Championships in his first go as a wrestler as a junior.

“Emmanuel is a tough player. He doesn’t shy away from contact and he’s not going to back down from anybody. He learns through adversity. We tell these kids, ‘Remember where you come from and that you need to work hard in life.’ He’s been doing that. Last year was his first year in wrestling; he did the best he could and the guy goes to state. He can lead this group.”

Duron will be one of the Rio Grande Valley’s top pass rushers in 2020, and his elite burst off the line should keep the Bobcats defense competitive in a district dominated by high-level quarterback play.

Edinburg High running back Shannon Woodward carries the ball during football practice at Edinburg High School on Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020, in Edinburg. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

Ironically, Woodard might be the closest comparison to Duron on the football field, even though traditionally they have played on opposite sides of the ball.

The Bobcats’ back ran for 1,183 yards and 13 touchdowns on 205 carries that included five 100-yard rushing games during eight appearances in the backfield last season.

Woodard earned all-district honors in 31-6A as a junior last season and a new nickname after working hard in isolation during the dog days of summer and the darkest days of the Rio Grande Valley’s COVID-19 crisis so far.

“Shannon’s been working out all summer, so he put a little bit of mass on him so we nicknamed him the bus,” Lejia said. “He’s moving well and he looks good out there. He’s having fun.”

In another somewhat ironic twist necessitated by this season’s unique circumstances, Duron and Woodard have both been getting reps out of the backfield, as the Bobcats plan to bulldoze their competition and prepare for every possible scenario in this season defined by uncertainty.

“I’ve been at this for 29 years and this is a completely different year. There’s having to wear facemasks in practice, which we make mandatory for our kids, having to disinfect equipment every day instead of once a week the way it used to be,” Lejia said. “We have hand-washing stations out here and hand-sanitizing stations. But the administration has given us everything (we need) to help us keep our kids safe, and if the parents trust us to have them out here, then we’re going to do everything we can to keep them safe.”

Duron and Woodard highlight a group of 29 returning varsity lettermen — six on offense and six on defense — that should make Edinburg High one of the more experienced teams in the new-look District 31-6A.

Offensively, the Bobcats also return junior quarterback Roland Abrego, who took over the starting quarterback job midway through last season and is expected to make another big leap this season.

Edinburg High quarterback Rolando Abrego hands off the ball during football practice at Edinburg High School on Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020, in Edinburg. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

Abrego threw for 453 yards and five touchdowns while completing 54.1% of his passes in eight games last season and added 273 yards and a touchdown on the ground.

Edinburg High’s offense should also be fueled by deep pools of returning talent on both the offensive line and in the receiving corps.

“Last year he played as a 15-year-old sophomore and we’re hoping he has some big games this year with all the experience he’s got,” Lejia said of Abrego. “We’ve also got Edwin Muniz who’s a junior wide receiver; he played a lot last year.”

Defensively, the Bobcats will also lean on linebacker Angel Sanchez and defensive ends Diego Flores and Juan Garza, who combined for 110 tackles last year, in the front seven, while senior defensive back Ryhan Gudino anchors the secondary with hopes of overcoming the team’s 4-6 finish in 2019 to return to the postseason.

“It’s going to be a battle. Around here no one gets anything given to them,” Lejia said. “Everybody’s got to fight for their job.”

Email: amcculloch@themonitor.com

Twitter: @ByAndyMcCulloch