MISSION — Few men are revered more in Mission than Tom Landry. On top of having a street and a stadium named after him in his hometown, Landry helped lead the Mission High Eagles to places they had never been.
Before coaching the Dallas Cowboys for three decades and being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Landry played quarterback and a number of other positions for the Eagles and led Mission High to a 12-0 season his senior year, as the team reached the regional quarterfinals, the deepest possible playoff destination for Rio Grande Valley teams at the time.
Landry set a high standard for quarterback play at Mission High, which has produced several of Texas high school football’s all-time passing leaders, as well as the city of Mission generally.
But coaches and teammates believe they already have the next great Mission High quarterback in junior Jeremy Duran.
“Jeremy was a great leader. He would help us all out and whenever we were struggling to find our chemistry, he would bring us all together. He would talk to us, talk to the team and just let us know who we are and what our goals were,” said Stevie Villarreal, a former Mission High wideout and one of Duran’s favorite targets in 2018 and 2019.
“In the locker room before games, he would always pump us up. He would always bring us all together and we would have a team meeting with the offense. Then he would go over to the defensive side of the room and talk to the defense and let them know about the other team, the game plan and how they wanted the game to go on. He was a great leader in general on and off the field and in the classroom as well.”
Duran, who also plays baseball and basketball, led the Eagles to a 13-7 record on the gridiron in games he started as a freshman and sophomore, leading Mission High to a share of the District 30-6A title in 2019.
The Eagles’ junior signal-caller has also been taken under the wing of another standout Mission High quarterback in current head coach Koy Detmer.
“Jeremy is a kid who’s played a lot of youth football and youth sport in general, and he’s played them at a high level from a young age. He has a lot of natural abilities and leadership characteristics. He’s really grown here with this group of kids and he’s really taken over a leadership role with our team,” Detmer said in an interview with The Monitor on Sept. 1.
During his junior season, Detmer took the Eagles back where few Valley teams had been since Landry’s senior season: the regional quarterfinals of the 1990 Class 5A DII state playoffs, winning to advance to the state semifinals.
Mission High ultimately fell in the 1990 state semifinals in a shootout against Aldine in the Astrodome in Houston, where Detmer set the Texas high school football record for most passes in a game (73) which was only recently broken.
As a senior, Detmer led the Eagles to a perfect 10-0 regular-season record like Landry before an untimely playoff exit. He graduated with then-state career state records of 8,221 passing yards and 82 passing touchdowns.
With Duran now entering his junior year, Detmer believes his young quarterback has what it takes to cement himself as the next Mission High great at the position.
“He’s very mature. The thing you see from him whether it’s in a game, in a practice or after a game when there are challenging moments (is) he responds very well,” Detmer said. “We’ve been in several games the past couple of years where we needed to have big drives at big times in the game and he’s come through all of those times in those situations. He handles it really well and (like a quarterback) way above his age. You don’t see kids at a young age do the things that he does in certain moments of the game that are really tough. He’s at his best in those moments.”
Pressure is often described as an acquired taste, and Duran got his first taste at an early age.
Duran was the quarterback for the Mission Mustangs, a youth football team that gained national attention on the show “Friday Night Tykes,” and led the team to win the Texas Youth Football Association state championship in 2014 at Cowboy Stadium in Arlington.
He’s showed a level of poise under pressure matched by few in his time with the Eagles too, leading the team on a number of game-winning drives in the waning minutes of regulation or overtime.
As a junior in 2019, Duran had two such performances that reverberated throughout the Rio Grande Valley: a 97-yard drive capped off with a game-winning touchdown pass with 3 seconds left on the clock to topple the McAllen Memorial Mustangs and a game-tying 21-yard touchdown pass on fourth and long with 9 seconds remaining against the Laredo United Longhorns in the Class 6A DI bi-district playoffs.
“It’s kind of crazy to watch. If there’s time on the clock and he’s got the ball, anything can happen,” Detmer said. “He’s kind of proven time and time again that it’s not a one-time thing. Whatever you want to call it, he’s just got that thing about him. When we’re in those moments, he comes through in a big way. He’s really a special player that way.”
Duran, however, also stands out for what he contributes to the Eagles behind the scenes.
Two moments, in particular, endeared the Mission High quarterback to his teammates and galvanized the group, the first of which came in an early-season road contest against the McAllen High Bulldogs when Duran played through a hamstring injury to rally his squad for an overtime win.
“(In those moments,) Jeremy would be my first pick. He reads the corners and linebackers real well,” Villarreal said. “If he sees something, he’ll change the play or call for a deep pass or run the ball. He knows how to read defenses and move the ball downfield. Jeremy would definitely be my pick if we needed to move the ball downfield without a doubt.”
The second moment came after the Eagles’ second loss of the season in a 36-28 shootout to the PSJA High Bears in Mission, which denied the team a shot at a solo district championship.
“Whenever we lost to PSJA, after that game we went to the locker room and the coaches talked for a few minutes and then they went to their offices,” Villarreal said. “We were just sitting there talking and Jeremy was like, ‘We lost this game because of our chemistry. We weren’t all together on the field. We were all there, but we weren’t together and were just doing our individual thing. We’ve got to pick our heads up, step it up mentally and come back stronger. We want to go deep in the playoffs, so we have to start now.’ He was a great leader and an amazing athlete. It was a great experience playing with Jeremy.”
Mission High will have plenty to play for when it takes on PSJA High again in a District 31-6A matchup Thursday at PSJA Stadium in Pharr.
For Duran and the Eagles, though, Thursday’s grudge match with the Bears is about much more than revenge and seeing the field again in an uncertain 2020 season, after throwing for 307 yards and three touchdowns in his junior season debut against the Edinburg High Bobcats.
It’s an opportunity for Duran to show he has what it takes to lead the Eagles to new heights under the watchful eyes of two former Mission High gunslingers: Detmer and PSJA High head coach Lupe Rodriguez, who were both inducted into the RGV Sports Hall of Fame after leading Mission under center from the mid-1980s to early-1990s.
The game will also carry significance for Detmer, whose father, former Mission High head football coach and Texas high school football coaching legend Sonny Detmer, coached his last home game for the Eagles against PSJA High, a 47-0 blowout. Sonny Detmer died Sept. 22 at the age of 76.
But perhaps most importantly, Thursday is also an opportunity for Duran to continue playing his junior season in honor of his late father Omar Trujillo, coach of the Mission Mustangs and a front-line hospital worker in Mission who passed away Sept. 4 from COVID-19 complications.
The goals on the gridiron, however, never change at Mission High, where the expectation is to win at all costs and emulate Landry’s formula for success.
Following in the footsteps of Detmer, Landry, Rodriguez and Trujillo, coaches and teammates alike believe Duran has what it takes to become a hometown hero and lead the Eagles back to another regional championship.
“I have yet to see someone at his age come out and be that kind of leader,” Villarreal said. “I know Jeremy’s (personal) goal is to make it to the NFL and if he keeps working at it and he gets going, I’m pretty sure that’s where he will be. He will follow in Coach Detmer’s footsteps. It’s good for him to have Coach Detmer there to guide him.”
“He’s got a great personality. He’s really good with the guys. He’s got the ability to push when it’s time to push and he’s also got the ability to keep things loose and relaxed. He doesn’t get easily stressed out in those tough moments,” Detmer said. “He’s really good that way leadership wise and the guys really rally around him. They enjoy playing with him and they enjoy playing for him. He’s just got that thing about him.”