MISSION — There are two teams in the Rio Grande Valley that enter the 2023 season with a chance to win a third consecutive district championship — the La Villa Cardinals in Class 2A and the Sharyland High Rattlers in 5A.
The Rattlers, who begin the year tied at No. 9 in the RGVSports Class 5A-6A top 10 rankings along with Weslaco High, won a tri-district championship in 2021 and an outright 16-5A DII title last season.
They’re not looking back, however.
Coach Craig Krell’s group returns just seven starters from its district championship squad. And although they’ll be a younger team this year, their goal is to prove themselves and compete for a shot at a three-peat in District 16-5A DII.
“I believe they’re ready to step into those roles, but nothing’s like Friday nights until you play Friday nights,” said Krell, who begins his third year as head coach at Sharyland. “I know there will be some nerves, the blood flowing, but as we get around district play, I don’t have any doubt that those guys will be ready and battle-tested by the time we get there. We might have a little struggles early in the season, but as we get going, we should be all right.”
The Rattlers’ offense returns just one starter, but it’s at the most important position on the field in Sharyland’s spread scheme. Senior quarterback Bo Krell is back in the saddle as the leader of the offense. He threw for 1,881 yards and 16 touchdowns last season, helping Sharyland go 7-5 on the year, 5-0 in district play and into the area round of the playoffs after a 32-7 bi-district win over Edcouch-Elsa.
“Any time there’s questions on the offense, when you have a quarterback back there that can pretty much on every play, answer everybody’s job, it’s beneficial. It’s no different than having that inside linebacker that knows everything that’s going on on the defensive side of the ball,” coach Krell said.
Sharyland’s senior signal caller likes what he’s seen from a young receiving corps that will step into full-time starting roles in 2023.
“It’s a day-by-day thing. You can’t look weeks ahead and say how can we be 10-0, it’s how can we be 1-0,” the younger Krell said. “We have who we got and we’re going to roll with it, and we feel pretty confident in the guys we got.”
While the offense will feature 10 new faces along with Krell, one of them is making the move from defense and is ready to carry the load offensively.
Junior Santiago Longoria was voted District 16-5A DII’s defensive newcomer of the year unanimously last season after splashing onto the scene as a linebacker with 86 tackles and three interceptions. This year, he’ll still play some defense, but coach Krell plans to get the ball to Longoria out of the backfield as a running back. Longoria also played quarterback as a freshman, so moving back to offense is something he’s comfortable with.
“We knew we could really use him on the defensive side of the ball last year, and it would have been easy to keep him there, but I know what he can do on the offensive side of the ball and help us in getting productivity there,” coach Krell said about Longoria. “We’re just excited to see him there and see what he does in terms of touches, carrying the ball and all the different things that he gives us on the offensive side, as well.”
“Last year was an impressive year for me. I didn’t really expect to do that good, but the bar is can I match that or do better,” Longoria said. “Every year you want to get better and hopefully I can do that this year. Improvement is what helps you win games, you can’t stay at one level, you have to level up.
Sharyland’s defense is the more experienced unit of the two with six returning starters set to take the field. Krell said he expects the leadership to come from the second level and secondary of the Rattlers defense.
“I think our linebacking crew has got a lot of experience with Caden Requenez and Diego Guerrero, both of them are coming back with quite a few starts under their belt. I think our linebacking crew is going to hold down the fort and take charge,” Krell said.
The Rattlers kickoff the regular season with a home game against Brownsville Pace at 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 25 at Richard Thompson Stadium in Mission. Sharyland’s non-district slate continues against Brownsville Hanna (Sept. 1), McAllen Rowe (Sept. 7), Weslaco High (Sept. 15 and Mercedes (Sept. 22).
Sharyland will begin its district title defense against Roma on Oct. 6 before a pair of rivalry games against Mission Veterans on Oct. 20 and Sharyland Pioneer on Oct. 27. The Rattlers close the regular season against PSJA Southwest on Nov. 2.