DONNA — The Donna North Chiefs are one of the Rio Grande Valley’s newest football programs at the Class 6A level after playing their inaugural season on the gridiron in 2013.
It’s been a tough go for Donna North, one of Donna’s two high school football teams, which currently finds itself mired in a 24-game losing streak, the longest active winless streak in RGV high school football. The Chiefs’ last win, a 38-21 home victory over Brownsville Porter, was on Oct. 13, 2017.
But now under the leadership of first-year head coach and athletic coordinator Juan Cuevas, a longtime assistant coach at crosstown rival Donna High who was hired in April, the Chiefs are eager to return to the field to earn their first win in three seasons, kick off a new era with a bang and build off Donna’s rich legacy and tradition as the RGV’s only town to boast a state championship-winning high school football team.
“We’ve had a rough go the past two seasons, but there have been some very big positives during the last two seasons. Now we feel that coming in we can build on what’s already been established here. We’ll put them in great positions to compete, be successful and win football games,” Cuevas said.
“It’s the excitement of a new scheme with new coaches bringing new life into the program and not only that but the excitement of getting back to football and some sort of normality. But they’re also playing with a chip on their shoulder. They’re very hungry. … They’re hungry for success and wins.”
Cuevas and the Chiefs faced an uphill battle during the offseason.
On top of being limited in their practice and training time during the spring and summer due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Cuevas struggled to learn about his team’s personnel and the intricacies of being a head coach on the fly.
Donna North’s student-athletes, meanwhile, leaned on innovative digital approaches in order to learn Cuevas’ new offensive and defensive playbooks from home while staying conditioned and ready for a potential return to game action in 2020.
“I hadn’t really seen them in person until we got back out on the field, so it’s very exciting,” Cuevas said. “We’re, in essence, just getting to work with our kids for the first time. We haven’t seen them and we didn’t know who they were other than the coaches who have been here.”
“Our strength and conditioning, our team meetings and position meetings and chalk talk now is all virtual,” he added. “That’s laid a good foundation for getting back out on the field, so I think in that sense the coaches have done a great job and the football players have done a great job of setting that foundation and learning the basic schemes on offense, defense and special teams and now putting it all together on the football field.”
Cuevas and his team were ecstatic to learn that they would have the opportunity to put on their pads and play competitively again in 2020 as they seek to flip the page to a new chapter in school history and begin a winning tradition of their own.
The Chiefs will be dependent upon a group of athletic two-way standouts in Year 1 under Cuevas, as the team moves into a new era in a stacked District 32-6A that includes Harlingen High, San Benito and Weslaco High among many other perennial playoff contenders.
The team has a plethora of tall athletic wideouts who double as defensive backs, headlined by senior Rigo Rodriguez, while the Chiefs will also enjoy the sibling quarterback-receiver battery of junior Robert Gomez and senior Aiden Gomez offensively.
Defensively, Donna North will rely on senior defensive end Tony Gandaria, the team’s anchor upfront and a tank along the Chief’s stout defensive line, and defensive tackle Valentin Sanchez to lead a group that returns eight starters from a year ago.
“They’re beginning to jell and believe in each other. They’re beginning to become a team,” Cuevas said of his defense. “They’re becoming a team of brothers, which is what we are.”
The Chiefs should also use offensive line depth to their advantage this season as the group returns a majority of its starters including seniors John Bustos and Fidel Garcia.
Cuevas and Donna North will get their first crack at securing their first win of a new era when they host Harlingen South in both teams’ District 32-6A opener at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Benny Layton Stadium.
But whether his team wins or loses in their season opener against the Hawks, Cuevas and the Chiefs will be excited for the opportunity to take their field and reverse their fortunes under the Friday night lights.
“(Our wide receivers) are very talented and we’re very happy with our offensive line as well. We’ve got a good group of young men. We feel like if we just put them in the right position to be successful, coach them up and teach them the game of football, then we’ll give ourselves a chance to compete and be in a position to win football games which is the goal here.”