Five East Valley football programs had a new man in charge this season. Four of those coaches advanced their new teams to the playoffs.

The Lyford Bulldogs (7-3, 4-2 in District 16-3A Division I) and first-time coach Jerry Jauregui are traveling to face Industrial at 7 p.m. today in Odem. Jauregui returned to the sidelines after spending three years as the high school assistant principal and credited the players and coaching staff for buying in and sparking Lyford’s continued success.

Lyford coach Jerry Jauregui is photographed at the high school Feb. 12 after being hired to be the Bulldogs’ athletic director/head football coach. By Claire Cruz, Valley Morning Star

“It’s been a great ride this year,” Jauregui said. “It’s everything I expected and then some. All praise is to the coaches and to the players. They’ve done a great job practicing all year, executing and being locked in.

“We’re going to be facing a good team in Industrial. We’ve had a good week of practice. The boys have executed well, and they’re ready for the game.”

Jauregui’s Bulldogs have one of the top sub-5A offenses in the Rio Grande Valley, averaging 509.5 yards and 32.8 points per game. He said Lyford’s never-stay-down mentality helps the unit learn from losses and mistakes, and keeps it competitive.

“We get knocked down and they get right back up and they’re ready to keep fighting,” Jauregui said. “I attribute that to their mentality, the fight in them. Whatever mistakes we have, we learn from it. No challenge is too big for them.”

Jauregui replaced Israel Gonzalez, who set out to change the Harlingen South Hawks program.

The Hawks have enjoyed arguably the most impressive turnaround in the Valley. They hadn’t finished above .500 since 2013. This year, they’ve been perfect, going 10-0 overall and 7-0 to win the District 32-6A championship, with their sights set on more wins.

Gonzalez credited his assistant coaches and the players’ desire to change the program for the immediate success.

Harlingen South coach Israel Gonzalez watches practice Aug. 6. By Claire Cruz, Valley Morning Star

“I was allowed to bring in seven coaches. That combination of bringing in exactly who I wanted with some great coaches that I kept that were already on staff was a huge factor,” Gonzalez said. “The kids were willing and ready to change. They were really hungry when we got here. They were like sponges and absorbed all the information we were giving them, and put in the time and effort.”

Gonzalez said his time at Lyford made him a better coach in terms of making quick adjustments and handling two-way players. Jeremiah Rivera, Elias Ledesma, Levi Ince and Carlos Mossboss are a few South players reaping those benefits as two-way playmakers.

The Hawks will take on PSJA North at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Boggus Stadium. The growth they’ve made in the short time under a new staff has them feeling confident they’ll be adding another gold ball to the trophy case.

“(PSJA North is) going to be a ground-and-pound offense that’s explosive at times,” Gonzalez said. “We expect them to be physical offensively, and they boast the No. 1 defense in the Valley, I think. We know we have our work cut out for us. There’s no doubt we’re going to be in for a hard-fought game, and we’re preparing for that.”

Harlingen South and Los Fresnos (6-3, 5-2) both went from missing the playoffs in 2020 to being title contenders in 2021 under new direction. David Cantu returned to his alma mater to lead the Falcons and has enjoyed seeing his team improve consistently.

Los Fresnos coach David Cantu watches practice Aug. 10. By Claire Cruz, The Brownsville Herald

“This is my 26th year in coaching and it’s been my most challenging, by far,” Cantu said. “It was a struggle to figure out who we were, especially offensively. You want these kids to have fun, be confident in what they’re doing, enjoy what they’re doing, and little by little we got there. Not perfect, by any means. Long way to go still. We’re a team that improved every week, and that’s something I feel very proud about.”

Rejuvenating the love and dedication to Falcons football was a big key for Cantu’s turnaround. Edsson Picazo, Daniel Ramirez, Josh Munoz, Luis Lucio, Diego Cantu and Rex Halford are a few playmakers Cantu praised for being unselfish to help the team. Matthew Padilla and Hector Muniz took on new responsibilities and have shined.

Cantu and his strong group of seniors will lead Los Fresnos into battle with Mission High at 7 p.m. Friday in Hidalgo. The defense, thriving under defensive coordinator Brent Blackman, will aim to have another huge game to boost the Falcons.

“A team is only as good as its seniors. Our seniors were very hungry to have a solid season,” Cantu said. “Our defense has been the strength of our team, and anyone who has seen us play will vouch for that. … “(Mission High is) very balanced. We’re going to have to bring our ‘A’ game if we’re going to have any chance at being victorious, and that’s what our plan is.”

Brownsville Veterans Memorial coach Kelley Lee watches practice Aug. 6. By Claire Cruz, The Brownsville Herald

Former college coach Kelley Lee took the reins at Brownsville Veterans Memorial when Cantu departed. He changed the offensive scheme and got the Chargers (7-3, 7-2 in District 16-5A Division I) back in the playoffs for the first time since 2018.

The Chargers went on an impressive “redemption tour,” going 7-0 against teams they were 2-5 against last year, Lee said. Next up, they’ll aim to capture a playoff victory when they face Corpus Christi Veterans Memorial at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Buccaneer Stadium.

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