Chicken Express Community Heroes: Blanco's Johanna Villareal and Tivy's Karson Valverde

Chicken Express and Dave Campbell’s Texas Football are partnering to honor the heroes in your community. Male and female student-athletes that lead by example on the field of play and in the classroom can be honored as Chicken Express Community Heroes and receive scholarship money to continue their education beyond high school.

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Johanna Villareal, Blanco

When Johanna Villarreal was running track in middle school at Blanco, meets would often be set up to have the boys and girls run together in the 2,400-meter run. Villarreal, displaying her ultra-competitive nature, didn’t want to let the boys beat her and quickly began to separate from the rest of the pack alongside one boy who managed to keep up. 

The pair of runners pulled so far ahead that race officials forced them to run an additional lap, thinking there must have been a mistake as they looked at what would have been the finishing times. 

It was an early lesson for Villarreal, who has counted her own laps in the years since while solidifying herself as one of the state’s most consistent runners. Villarreal is a three-time state champion, having won the 3,200 as a sophomore and junior while also taking home the gold medal in the 1,600 as a sophomore. 

“When I went to state in the 3,200 my sophomore year, everyone in my school and community was so excited for me,” Villarreal said. “I found out later that several teachers live streamed the race in their classrooms. I was in 8thplace for much of the race, so I wasn’t on the screen. But when I started the final lap, I was able to catch the other runners and ended up winning. 

“One of my friends sent me a video of her classroom watching. Everyone was yelling and cheering as I was able to pass people, and it was so amazing to have that kind of support. It was definitely a day I will never forget.”

After winning state as a sophomore, though, Villarreal began to put increasing amounts of pressure on herself to do well again. She struggled through a disappointing year in cross country as a junior but bounced back in time to again shine on the track in the spring of her junior year – a recovery she credited to Blanco girls track coach Jane Karnes. 

Villarreal has done far more for Blanco than just bring back hardware from the state track meet, though. The senior is currently ranked second in her class and is the vice president of the National Honor Society. Villarreal started a summer running camp for elementary and middle school students, volunteers at Special Olympics bowling, is active in YoungLife and Leo Club, and also volunteers at a soup kitchen. 

Villarreal, who will compete in the Class 3A Region IV track meet on April 26-27, will attend Texas State in the fall. Villarreal plans to study to become a speech pathologist. 

“I really enjoy working with kids and would like to work in a school,” Villarreal said. “Running is such an amazing way to relax and stay healthy that I know I will still be an avid jogger, probably doing an occasional race to help keep my competitive spirit satisfied. I know I’ll always continue volunteering and working with kids.”

Karson Valverde, Kerrville Tivy

Karson Valverde is as superstitious as they come when it comes to football.

Valverde, who starred at Kerrville Tivy, went through a very specific routine each night of the season in order to get prepared for gameday. Among the most important superstitions he followed was stopping at pump No. 5 at Shell to get $20 in gas after watching the JV or freshmen team play on Thursday nights.

The superstition and attention to detail seemingly paid off for Valverde, who was a three-year starter and the 2018 District 14-5A Division II MVP in 2018 after accounting for 2,474 yards and 24 touchdowns as a quarterback, running back and receiver for the Antlers.

Valverde, who transferred from 3A Ingram before his sophomore year, played a key role in the Antlers’ run to the third round of the playoffs as a senior.

“Going to school at Tivy was the best time of my life,” Valverde said. “At first it was very difficult but once I became myself, everything changed. Tivy and the community is like a big family and we are all one here. We have the same mindset, and that’s to do the best you can whether it’s on the field, the court, in band, choir, or, most importantly, in the classroom.

“Tivy Fight Never Dies is a real thing in Kerrville – they teach the kids that at the elementary school level and that’s something special to have.”

In addition to his success on the field, Valverde was an A/B honor roll student throughout his high school career and is involved at his church, with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, HOSA and a clinical class that shadows nurses at a nearby hospital.

Valverde and his friends also hosted a dodgeball tournament to raise money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma society.

“I’ve always felt like it’s important to get involved because you make relationships with people and could make a difference in their life,” Valverde said. “I’ve noticed how much kids look up to our football team and how eager they are to be a Tivy Antler.”

Valverde will continue his football career next season at Incarnate Word under head coach Eric Morris, who was the 2018 Southland Conference Coach of the Year after leading the Cardinals to a 6-4 record and a conference title. Valverde hopes to become either a physical therapist or a nurse.

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