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McALLEN The McAllen High Bulldogs started last season with a 1-3 record. By the end of the year, however, head coach Patrick Shelby’s group was playing its best ball as McHi closed the regular season with back-to-back rivalry victories before winning in the bi-district and area rounds of the playoffs to make the program’s first regional semifinal appearance since 2000.

With 15 returning starters, the Bulldogs look to replicate last season’s hot streak as the No. 5-ranked team in the top 10 poll.

Leading McHi’s offense is junior quarterback Joaquin Valdez. He emerged as a steady presence behind center as a sophomore with 2,112 passing yards, 24 passing touchdowns, 264 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns in 13 games.

McAllen High wide receiver Max Alvarez carries the ball against McAllen Memorial in a District 15-5A DI game at McAllen Veterans Memorial Stadium on Thursday, Nov. 4, 2022, in McAllen. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

The return of Obed “Max” Alvarez gives the Bulldogs one of the top offensive playmakers in the area. The senior, who has received a preferred walk-on offer from UTRGV, lined up at receiver, running back, defensive back, punter and kickoff returner in 2022. He finished with 350 rushing yards, two rushing touchdowns, 564 receiving yards, eight receiving touchdowns, 45 tackles, three tackles for loss, one interception, one forced fumble and one kickoff return for a touchdown. Alvarez, along with fellow senior receiver Nick Karam, present two athletic and tall targets to get the ball to in the passing game.

Senior running back Jayden Herrera will be the focal point of McHi’s ground game after leading the team with 761 yards and 11 total touchdowns a season ago while running behind offensive lineman Maddox Braxton.

McHi’s defense was junior-heavy last season, making them an experienced unit with playmakers at every level.

Up front, defensive linemen Heriberto Balderas, Hudson Hood and Jaxson Quintanilla will lead the charge. Balderas totaled 48 tackles with one sack, one tackle for loss, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery last season, while Hood returned from injury midway through the season and closed with an impressive finish.

John Aleman brings back 56 stops from his linebacker spot, while McHi’s secondary features athletes across the board in returning starters Andres Barrera (55 tackles), Nathan Rocha (65 tackles), Aden Sanchez (56 tackles) and Will Hawk (32 tackles). Rocha led the Bulldogs with two interceptions in 2022.

McAllen High quarterback Joaquin Valdez throws a pass during a Region IV-5A Division I semifinal playoff game against Corpus Christi Veterans on Nov. 25 at McAllen Veterans Memorial Stadium in McAllen.

McHi has all the pieces to compete for a third consecutive playoff berth and should fare better against district championship favorites Edinburg Vela and PSJA North compared to a season ago.

McHi will open the regular season against Edinburg High at 7 p.m. Thursday at Richard R. Flores Stadium in Edinburg. The Bulldogs play host to Mission High (Sept. 1) and Mercedes (Sept. 7) to close out non-district play.

District 15-5A DI begins with a matchup against defending district champion PSJA North on Sept. 14 in Pharr. McHi closes the regular season with a pair of inner-city rivalry games against McAllen Rowe (Oct. 27) and McAllen Memorial (Nov. 3) in McAllen.