MISSION — Mission Veterans defensive end Mark Champion showed glimpses of his potential during his sophomore season, recording three sacks and six tackles for loss, setting up for a possible breakout junior campaign.

Champion suffering a torn labrum on his right shoulder during the Patriots’ season opener, sidelining him for the rest of the season.

“It was really tough on me,” Champion said. “I had to talk to my parents and my coaches. I just wanted to get better quicker and get ready for next season.

“The injury made me hungrier. I wanted to go out there my junior year win district and make a deep run. But I couldn’t. This year, it’s been going good.”

With a relentless mindset and the support of his coaches and family, Champion fought his way back onto the gridiron, emerging as an impact player for the Patriots’ defense during the regular season, racking up 11 sacks, 21 tackles for loss and six forced fumbles in eight appearances.

Champion elevated his game to another level during the Patriots’ first-round matchup, recording 12 total tackles, four sacks and three tackles for loss to help lead his team to a 17-14 victory over Medina Valley.

Mission Veterans Mark Champion (2) celebrates a sack with teammate Justin Munoz (10) during a game against Sharyland High on Sept. 30 at Richard Thompson Stadium in Mission. (Delcia Lopez | [email protected])

“It’s been terrific to have him on the field this year,” Mission Veterans head coach David Gilpin said. “While we’ve missed him at times, he’s been on the field for the most part. He’s just been a disruptive force versus all the different styles of offense and the different levels of talent we’ve seen. He’s just been a guy that makes plays and we’re glad to have him back. There is no doubt about that.”

Champion and the Patriots now prepare for their next test, taking on the Marble Falls Mustangs in the Class 5A-DII area round at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Heroes Stadium in San Antonio.

Champion is just one cog in the Patriots’ defensive machine, which allowed only 221.9 yards per game during the regular season.

Junior linebacker Luis De Hoyos is an intimidating presence in the middle of the field for the Patriots, swarming to the ball with reckless abandon on every play. He leads the team in total tackles with 169, while adding 22 tackles for loss and five sacks.

Cody Von Wald joins De Hoyos in the linebacking corp, giving the Patriots another physical presence in the middle of the field. Von Wald has tallied 82 tackles, 11 tackles for loss and five sacks this year.

Sharyland’s Alan Guerrero (7) is stopped by Mission Veterans Cody Von Wald (31) and Mark Champion (2) during during a game Sept. 30 at Richard Thompson Stadium in Mission. (Delcia Lopez | [email protected])

The secondary is anchored by ball-hawking defensive backs Felipe Olvera and Erik Arredondo, who have combined to force eight turnovers.

Still, while the defense is full of playmakers, it’s their “one heartbeat” mantra that has led to success on the field, Gilpin said, with everyone understanding their role.

“They’ve bought in,” Gilpin said. “Our defensive coordinator, Simon Mendoza, has done a great job with them along with all of our defensive coaches. It’s been a true team accomplishment on the defensive side of the ball between our coaching staff and our boys.

“They’ve been outstanding. We’re only giving up a little over 200 yards a game and only 14 to 15 points a game. But mostly they’ve been consistent. It’s not like they have a good game here and there. They’ve been consistent all year.”

The Patriots’ defense faces a tall task Friday if they hope to advance to the Region IV-5A semifinals, needing to slow down the Mustangs’ slot-T offense, often referred to as the “nasty slot.”

Still, Champion said he believes the defense is ready for the challenge, facing a similar offense earlier this year when taking on Edcouch-Elsa.

“We just got to stay low against those guys,” Champion said. “They run that nasty slot like Edcouch. It’s going to be a tough one. It’s going to be a battle. Marble Falls has some athletes over there. But we got some good athletes, too. We match up perfectly.”

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