A total of 17 Grulla Gator football players were awarded some level of All-District recognition for their achievements during the recent 2018 season, with six players earning first team honors.
Five offensive players and one defensive player were awarded District 16-4A Division I first team All-District honors, with four players receiving unanimous first team recognition. Eight players were awarded second team recognition, and six players gained Honorable Mention honors.
Quarterback Dillen Salinas, running back Vidal Lopez, inside receiver Jesse Garza, and offensive guard Miguel Salazar were all awarded unanimous first team honors. Offensive tackle Rosbel Alaniz, outside linebacker Benny Cantu, and punter Dillen Salinas also earned first team plaudits.
Senior quarterback Dillen Salinas completed 147 of 263 passes for 1740 yards and 26 touchdowns and rushed for 936 yards on 162 carries and 10 scores. Gator Head Coach Abel Gonzalez III commented, “He came off a severe ankle injury in 2017.He worked hard to get back in shape, and he played as well as he had before the injury. His playmaking ability was as good as ever as he accounted for 36 touchdowns.”
Gonzalez explained that the Gators “wound up passing more this year than previous years. We implemented some new wrinkles on offense, including more quick passing plays. He (Salinas) has always been a natural leader and has played several varsity sports for four years. He’s one of the more gifted athletes this school has produced.”
Salinas was also honored as the first team All-District punter. Gonzalez contended that he “had another great season punting.” In 2017, Salinas was responsible for 1396 yards of total offense and 16 touchdowns at quarterback before a season ending injury in game seven. He achieved first team All-District honors at wide receiver as a sophomore in 2016.
The head coach noted that sophomore running back Vidal Lopez “wound up being our featured running back…He was our workhorse in our rushing attack. He’s a powerful, strong, and shifty back with good speed in the open field. We’re expecting big things from him next year.”
Lopez rushed for 950 yards on 193 carries and scored six touchdowns. Gonzalez indicated that he rushed for 141 yards and three touchdowns against Donna North, scampered for 124 yards and two touchdowns against Hidalgo, and motored for 108 yards on 15 carries against Kingsville. Lopez also darted for 129 yards on 21 carries against the Zapata Hawks.
Junior inside receiver Jesse Garza “had a huge breakout season this year and became one of our primary weapons,” emphasized Coach Gonzalez. “He led the entire Valley in touchdown receptions, and set school records for receptions, touchdown receptions, receiving yardage and total touchdowns.”
Garza caught 61 passes for 846 yards and 17 touchdowns and added 204 yards rushing and one touchdown on 27 carries. In the first round playoff game, a 55-28 loss to LaVernia, Garza scored all four Gator touchdowns, including a 95-yard kickoff return and three receiving scores. Among Garza’s three touchdown catches was a 75-yard scoring bomb as he achieved five receptions for 117 yards.
Graza collected six catches for 122 yards against St. Joseph and four catches for 99 yards and two touchdowns against Rio Hondo. He achieved six catches for 91 yards and two touchdowns against Hidalgo and seven catches for 89 yards, including a 65-yard scoring reception, against the Zapata Hawks.
The Gladiator skipper stressed that Garza “has an exemplary attitude and work ethic. He’s a great leader by example and works hard to be great in every area of life, on and off the field. It’s a pleasure to coach him. His speed helps make him an elite player.”
Senior offensive guard Miguel Salazar saw significant action on both offense and defense as he also attained second team recognition at defensive tackle in addition to his unanimous first team honors on offense.
Gonzalez indicated that Salazar “saw more action on offense than we had expected, but he played very well on both sides of the ball. He wound up playing less on defense than last year…He really shined on defense as a junior…He was one of our senior leaders and gave us everything he had.”
As a defensive tackle, Salazar accumulated 29 total tackles and four tackles for loss in 2018. In 2017, he registered 56 total tackles, five tackles for loss, and three sacks as he was honored as Defensive Lineman of the Year.
The head coach pointed out that junior offensive tackle Rosbel Alaniz “was a first year starter at left tackle and had an incredible year. He was an incredible run blocker because of his athletic ability. He’s totally committed to the success of our team. He showed great pass protection ability.”
Senior outside linebacker Benny Cantu was previously a first team All-District honoree at safety in 2017 as a junior. Gonzalez contended, “He’s a great kid in every respect….We had to move him to inside linebacker due to the injury of Joe Ramos (a three-year starter). Later on he was moved back to outside linebacker, where he began the year.”
In the 2018 season, Cantu registered 75 total tackles, 15 tackles for loss, two fumble recoveries and one forced fumble.
On offense, junior outside receiver Santiago Sifuentes, junior tight end Armando Ramirez and junior offensive tackle Jorge Vasquez all achieved second team All-District honors.
Sifuentes finished the season with 41 catches for 500 yards and six touchdowns. He registered six catches for 131 yards and three touchdowns against St. Joseph, including a 57-yard scoring reception. Gonzalez stressed, “He was a big threat for us as an outside receiver. He was an outstanding possession receiver.”
Gator defenders that attained second team All-District recognition were tackle Miguel Salazar, defensive end Moises Pena, linebacker Emmanuel Garcia, cornerback Axel Garza and safety Diego Saenz.
Junior defensive end Moises Pena wound up with 65 total tackles, 15 tackles for loss, three sacks and one forced fumble. Coach Gonzalez praised him for solid play throughout the season and especially strong performances in the last few games.
Senior linebacker Emmanuel Garcia finished the season with 52 total tackles, 27 solo tackles and four tackles for loss. Senior safety Diego Saenz contributed three interceptions, one fumble recovery, 30 solo tackles and 54 total tackles. Senior cornerback Axel Garza achieved 26 total tackles.
On offense, senior outside receiver Ruy Salinas, senior center Andrew Lopez, junior offensive guard Ricky Slauenwhite, and senior inside receiver Axel Garza were all awarded Honorable Mention All-District recognition. Salinas accumulated 30 catches for 275 yards and two touchdowns. Axel Garza contributed seven receptions for 49 yards and one touchdown.
Gator defenders earning Honorable Mention plaudits were junior cornerback Santiago Sifuentes and junior cornerback Joey Guerrero.
Sifuentes, a second team honoree at outside receiver, accumulated 26 total tackles. Guerrero registered 16 total tackles.
In evaluating the 2018 season, Gonzalez commented, “We weren’t as successful as we wanted to be. We had some injuries, but most teams deal with injuries. We didn’t have a lot of depth. The most serious injury was a season-ending injury in game three to Joe Ramos, a three-year starter at outside linebacker…Injuries forced a number of very young players into action on defense, but they gained invaluable experience for the future…Our record this year wasn’t a true indicator of how well the kids played much of the year.”
“The district was greatly improved this year,” stressed the head coach. “Hidalgo took some steps forward as all their district games were close. I was proud of our kids; they continued to fight and play hard. We had a 20-7 lead at halftime against Kingsville, but they caught fire in the second half with plays such as a surprise onside kick.”
Gonzalez noted that “we played well against LaVernia (in the first round playoff game) as we held a 21-19 lead in the third quarter, but LaVernia hit a number of big passing plays to win 55-28. In that game, Jesse Garza scored all four of our touchdowns, including one on a kickoff return.” La Vernia won the outright District 15-4A Division I championship, reached the fourth round of the Class 4A Division I playoffs, and finished the season with an overall record of 12-2.
The Gator mentor emphasized, “We set some school records on offense on both a team and individual level. We were the top ranked offense in our district.”
Concerning the future, Coach Gonzalez predicted, “We have a good nucleus coming back and we have many promising youngsters, some of whom were forced into action this year (by injuries to experienced players). We do have an experienced and talented team returning next year.”