Rattlers senior linebacker Jesus "Blady" Cavazos signs to play college football at Iowa's Grinnell College flanked by his parents, sisters and Sharyland High football coaches during a signing ceremony Wednesday at Sharyland High School in Mission. (Andrew McCulloch | The Monitor)

MISSION — The start of the COVID-19 pandemic ended spring football at Sharyland High almost as soon as it started in 2020.

The Rattlers were kept apart for nearly three months before reuniting for summer strength and conditioning, which lasted only two days before being halted by another COVID stoppage.

That’s when linebacker Blady Cavazos stepped up and rose to the occasion.

With help from his father, Cavazos organized socially distant team workouts during the sweltering summer months to prepare his squad for a high school football season unlike any he or his teammates had experienced before.

His hard work and leadership both on and away from the field paid off for Cavazos on Wednesday, when the Rattlers’ senior and team captain signed a national letter of intent to continue his football career at Grinnell College — a Division III school in Grinnell, Iowa — during a ceremony at Sharyland High.

“I’m just very excited and I’d like to, first of all, thank God for allowing me to be here and be able to be in the position I’m in here today,” Cavazos said. “It means the world to me (to have the support of my family and teammates). Knowing they have my back in everything I do has left me speechless, honestly, with everything they’ve done for me.”

The first group workouts Cavazos organized were attended by only a handful of senior teammates, but that number quickly and steadily rose as the summer progressed and the status of football season throughout the Rio Grande Valley remained uncertain.

In only a handful of weeks, his rigorous socially distant workouts had grown in size from three to nearly three dozen Rattlers at each session.

On top of preparing the group for the shortened season on the horizon where every game mattered more than ever before, the training sessions provided Cavazos and his teammates with an outlet during the early days of the pandemic defined by lockdowns and school closures.

“The whole summer during quarantine, I worked as if there was going to be a normal season. I had my doubts for a bit, but in my mind, I knew I had to get to work as if there was going to be one and if there wasn’t, well I can say I tried my hardest,” Cavazos said.

“It started off in May with just two other guys and we’d go work out at a park, run hills and do footwork. I started texting the rest of the team and eventually, we had 20-30 guys there who all wanted to get better,” he added. “It was really cool because after that I knew we had a team and we created so many memories there. We all became much closer.”

The role as a team leader suited the Rattlers’ star linebacker well. In addition to leading Sharyland on the gridiron, Cavazos has excelled on the basketball court and in the classroom.

The three-year varsity letterman in football and two-year letter winner in basketball earned Texas High School Coaches Association Academic All-State recognition in both sports as a senior.

His coaches, however, said they could tell Cavazos was destined to thrive as a team leader academically and athletically from the time he first stepped on campus.

“I knew his first year how hard he worked in the classroom and what kind of kid he was, and I knew that would carry over on the football field as well,” said Sharyland High head football coach Craig Krell, who served as Cavazos’ position coach and defensive coordinator.

“When we go in there and talk about who our player of the week is, it didn’t matter if it was a JV Thursday or Friday night, Blady’s name always came up in that conversation for player of the week.”

“He has been a major, major contributor to the success of our football program,” said former Sharyland High head football coach Ron Adame, who was recently appointed as an assistant athletic director with Sharyland ISD.

“His dedication to his work on the field, on the court and in the classroom has enabled him to be where he’s at today. Blady is an excellent example of what a student-athlete is.”

Cavazos’ offseason preparation paid dividends in both sports as he made the most of his opportunities during a senior year that featured scarce chances to compete.

He tallied 85 tackles and four tackles for loss during a dominant five-game regular season for the Rattlers on the football field leading the District 16-5A DII Defensive Player of the Year award and a spot on The Monitor’s All-Area Second Team defense.

Cavazos followed that up with a stellar season on the court, in which he earned First Team All-District and All-Defensive Team nods in District 31-5A.

He capped off his senior campaign with selections to the West All-Star Team in both football and basketball by the Rio Grande Valley Coaches Association and RGV Basketball Coaches Association, respectively.

“Football really helped me with strength on the basketball court. It really helped me getting to the rim, being able to jump and be strong with the ball, while basketball helped me be quicker and have more agility on the football field. It correlated perfectly,” Cavazos said.

“I felt blessed because, with the whole COVID situation, everything was really up in the air. I was just thankful to God for allowing me to be able to play as a senior.”

Cavazos picked Grinnell because of what the school was able to offer him in furthering both his academic and athletic pursuits.

Although he acknowledged he’s not yet prepared to face a Midwest winter, Cavazos said he’s excited for the opportunity to go out of state and represent the Rio Grande Valley at the next level.

“I’m a bit nervous still about going out of state, but I’m excited,” he said. “Knowing that I’m from Texas and going up there to represent the Valley is really cool.”

Email: amcculloch@themonitor.com

Twitter: @ByAndyMcCulloch