Agua Dulce’s players had never experienced a playoff win.
Not as varsity players.
Not even as kids growing up.
That’s because it’d been 25 years since the Longhorns last won a playoff game, well before any of them were born, and well before head coach Robert Beard took over the program in 2012.
Marred by the agony of two blowout losses to Falls City in bi-district the previous two seasons, the Longhorns could’ve easily let the pressure of not having captured the elusive first-round win since 1994 hang over their collective heads. To let the familiar, stay the norm.
But the change started from the 2018 loss to Falls City. It finished 75-12, not great, Beard will be the first one to tell you that, Falls City was on another level. But he stressed to the team that when things were going right, they were moving the ball at points during the game. The players noticed too.
“They saw that, this is Falls City, and we're able to do some things,” Beard said. “So, against other teams, we could probably beat them and that led into the off-season.”
That bled over to a 9-0 start to the 2019 season and eventually their 28-22 bi-district win over D’Hanis that ended the quarter-century drought. They finished 10-2.
Rewinding to that spring and fall camp though, the path for success wasn’t exactly easy to see. Losing quarterback and four-year varsity starter Randal Garza to graduation along with a handful of other seniors, it was an uphill climb.
“Everybody was expecting us to not do very well,” Beard said. “I told my coaches in meetings that, we got a chance to go 10-0 it's not going to be easy though.”
First, the Longhorns had to find its quarterback. Luckily for them, senior Erin Medina stepped into the role after being the team’s leading wideout the previous season. With Garza handling most of the snaps every year prior, Medina was a mystery.
“Medina was the dark horse,” Beard said. “Nobody expected him to come into play quarterback like he did.”
Helping Medina acclimate was Agua Dulce’s workhorse back, Cruz Garza, an All-State and All-South Texas Honorable Mention who finished with over 1,200 yards on the ground. But it was on the other side of the ball that Garza perhaps made his most significant contribution. During the season, Garza shifted to outside linebacker from cornerback. The change came at halftime during a windy game against La Villa when the Longhorns needed someone to contain the outside.
“(La Villa) were lining up unbalanced to us, running a sweep outside and we weren’t setting an edge,” Beard recalled from the Longhorn’s 10-8 slugfest victory to open district.
Garza came in and the rest was history.
But since it was a driven senior who helped pave the way for the Longhorns to go 10-2, what’s in the cards for 2020 and going forward? Well, the looming burden of a playoff drought 25 years in the making is done, but the buck can’t stop there.
Beard’s message to his returning players was simple, “Are you going to do take what you've been doing for granted or are you going to leave a legacy that you can be proud of in 15 years?”
And just because Agua Dulce is dealing with the loss of some playmakers, doesn’t mean the Longhorns will be back to where they were. They’re returning Angel Vera, a key contributor, as well as four of five starters along the offensive line including soon-to-be four-year starting center Roland Guerra and perhaps more importantly, the players finally have their own weight room for the first time in Beard’s seven years.
“We had an old weight room that was underneath an old gym, so the roof was all slanted down as we worked out for seven years,” Beard said. “The kids love it; I can’t get them out of there.”
Things are looking up for Agua Dulce and don’t be surprised to see their continued rise in south Texas.
This article is available to our Digital Subscribers.
Click "Subscribe Now" to see a list of subscription offers.
Already a Subscriber? Sign In to access this content.