‘Ground Strike’ offense fueling Chargers in playoff push

The home stretch of the District 16-5A Division I season begins this week, and the Brownsville Veterans Memorial Chargers are ready to make a strong final push toward a playoff berth.

Brownsville Veterans is 3-2 overall and sitting in a four-way tie for second in the district standings at 3-1 with five games left on the schedule. Playing in a new “Ground Strike” offense introduced by first-year coach Kelley Lee has changed the identity of the squad, which has fully bought into the “relentless effort” mindset the new coaching staff demands.

“It changed our whole team’s mentality. We’re working a lot harder,” junior quarterback Reece Sampayo said. “There’s a stereotype for spread teams where they’re not as aggressive, and (moving away from the spread) definitely changed the aggressive mentality for the team.”

Sampayo doesn’t have to throw often, but he likes that the run-heavy offense opens up the passing game and allows big plays in the air. He has only completed 20 passes this season, but seven have gone for touchdowns and he boasts 432 passing yards. Along with averaging 21.6 yards per pass, Sampayo has accumulated 185 yards and one score on the ground.

He enjoys the responsibility that comes with conducting the option offense and credits the coaching staff for preparing the Chargers to execute the detailed attack.

“There’s no off plays at all, really. Every play I’m reading something. There’s a lot going on,” Sampayo said. “The team’s bought in. We trust each other, and that’s what we need in this offense. … I believe we have the best coaches in the Valley. They always set the game plan, and whatever they say we do and we’ll see if we can win.”

The new scheme has allowed two unexpected Chargers to become key contributors to the offense.

Senior Jorge Alvarado made a name for himself as a hard-hitting linebacker, and this season his role expanded to include running back. Alvarado has tallied 270 yards and three rushing touchdowns. His powerful running style has him averaging 10 yards per carry.

“It’s been exciting getting to run the ball. I love doing more for the team, and not only being part of the defense but also help out on offense, and not only running but with blocks,” Alvarado said. “At first it was kind of surprising, but once I got into it, I started loving it more. (Being a defensive player) takes the fear out. (It helps with) toughness, getting into that defense and hitting bigger guys.”

Storm Montoya is only a freshman, but he headlines a stacked backfield with a team-high 461 rushing yards on 75 carries and has scored two rushing touchdowns. He shocked himself and his coaches with his emergence into the lead back role. The youngster battles some pregame jitters, but once the ball is snapped his confidence and training take over.

“It’s been crazy, like really crazy. This pace is much faster, and I got used to it pretty fast. I even surprised myself,” Montoya said. “Whenever kickoff happens, I’ll start to get nervous, then once the first play happens it’s gone and I start getting in rhythm. Teams know who I am now. … I was here over the whole summer, I didn’t miss a day and just got reps, reps, reps, and it got easier and easier.”

Montoya said he wasn’t expecting to be a starter, or even to play at all in BVM’s season-opener. His dedication and hard work throughout the offseason impressed the coaching staff, and those qualities have kept him consistently improving in his rookie season.

“We expected him to be on varsity. Playing this big of a role, we didn’t quite expect that,” Lee said. “He’s just done a phenomenal job. He’s got good vision, he’s really hard to tackle in the open field, he’s deceptively strong. But what makes him able to compete as a freshman is he’s very mature. He comes to work, he watches film, he corrects his mistakes and gets better every day.”

Brownsville Veterans has a slew of young playmakers stepping up this season. Of the six players with more than 100 rushing yards at the midway point, only two are seniors. Junior running back Jay Valdez accounts for 365 yards of offense (181 rushing, 184 receiving) and five total touchdowns, and leads the team with 10 receptions.

Lee sees BVM’s youth as a positive. He believes the Chargers are trending in the right direction at a good pace, leading to them being confident as they prepare to close out the season strong. Brownsville Veterans starts the second half of its season today with a 7 p.m. bout against Brownsville Lopez at Sams Memorial Stadium.

“We’re young, so as you’d expect we make some silly mistakes, but because we’re young and we have a good attitude to learn, we’re getting better every week. That’s a good quality because if we continue to do that, we can be pretty good by the end of the year,” Lee said. “They’ve got some confidence and … we feel like we’re healthier than we’ve been in a long time, so we’re ready to make a big push.”

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