EDINBURG — Edinburg Vela football began competing at the varsity level in 2012. After an 0-10 start and 5-5 record the next year, the SaberCats have ripped off nine consecutive playoff berths, six district championships and 13 postseason victories.

Their successful run in such a short span has turned them into a perennial powerhouse, and nothing about that will change in the 2023 season.

Edinburg Vela enters the new campaign as the No. 3 team in the RGVSports.com top 10 poll, as voted on by AIM Media’s sports staff at its three local newspapers — The Brownsville Herald, The Monitor and The Valley Morning Star.

The SaberCats return eight starters on each side of the ball from last year’s 10-2 squad that bowed out in the area round of the playoffs with a 14-7 loss against a Corpus Christi Veterans team that went on to win the region.

Edinburg Vela hung close, and with new faces stepping into key positions, it has the potential to put together a playoff run deeper than that area-round appearance a season ago.

Senior running back Jamal Polley is one of the top ball carriers in South Texas with good vision, quick bursts and strong running behind a big and athletic offensive line. Polley ran for 1,402 yards and 20 touchdowns on 134 carries for an average of 10.5 yards per rush in 2022. He also caught six passes for 71 yards and another score.

Edinburg Vela Jamal Polley (1) gets by a McAllen Memorial defender and scores a touchdown during the first quarter of a high school football game at Richard R. Flores Stadium Thursday, Sept. 15, 2022 in Edinburg. (Delcia Lopez/The Monitor | [email protected])

With fellow running back Dimas De Leon (710 rushing yards, 11 TDs), the two form a tough tandem for defenses to deal with. They’ll be key in helping now full-time starting quarterback Myles Lopez operate Vela’s balanced attack.

The 6-foot-3 junior Lopez split time at QB last season, throwing for 549 yards and eight touchdowns to just one interception as a sophomore. He has a big arm and can push the ball downfield to keep the points coming for the SaberCats’ quick-strike offense.

His top target should be tight end/receiver Jaxson Shupe. Standing at 6-foot-2, the speedy Shupe (18 catches, 467 yards, five TDs) will step up as Vela’s go-to-guy through the air following the graduation of its two leading receivers from a season ago, a tandem that combined for 89 receptions, 1,378 yards and 17 touchdowns.

Up front, Marcos Caballero, Kristopher Perez, Ronnie Ramirez, Noah Rocha and Kai Vinluan were a young offensive line a season ago that got better as the year went on. With another year of experience under its belt, look for the offensive line to take a step forward in Vela’s zone-blocking scheme.

Senior defensive end Alekzander Sotelo will anchor the SaberCats’ defense after posting 47 tackles, seven for loss, two sacks, one interception and one fumble recovery. Senior Anthony Moreno and junior Luis Garcia return in the secondary after coming away with two interceptions each in 2022.

Edinburg Vela’s Luis Garcia (11) makes an intercepetion intended for PSJA North’s Andre Matamoros (84) during the 1st quarter of a high school football game at PSJA Stadium Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022 in Pharr. (Delcia Lopez/The Monitor | [email protected])

The SaberCats open the year with rivalry games against Edinburg North and Edinburg High before closing non-district action against Weslaco East.

Vela starts 15-5A DI action in Week 4 against McAllen Memorial, but the blockbuster matchup comes in Week 5 against top-ranked PSJA North. The two battled for last year’s district title with the Raiders winning 28-21, although the SaberCats had a chance to tie late. This year’s rematch will be one of the biggest games in Region IV, along with Harlingen High and San Benito’s Battle of the Arroyo.

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