Returning to your hometown is always a great feeling. The sights and sounds all come back as you walk through town.
But for Harlingen South head coach Israel Gonzalez, coming back home isn’t just a trip down memory lane. He’s there to make some new ones.
Since taking over for Harlingen South, he has led the Hawks to a 3-0 record; a feat that hasn’t been done since 2016. He doesn’t plan on stopping there.
Gonzalez left Harlingen High after playing there as an athlete and coaching there for 10 years to Lyford for his first head coaching job. He put up a combined record of 24-18 where he made the playoffs all four years. Now he intends to bring that winning pedigree to Harlingen South and make his community proud.
“It's a blessing to be back home,” Gonzalez said. “I always knew that I wanted to come back home and if that opportunity arose I would take it. Harlingen is known for being a successful program in the Rio Grande Valley and I wanted to come back and do the same thing at Harlingen South.”
Gonzalez attributes the team’s great start to a strong senior class. Harlingen returns 32 lettermen and 14 starters. That makes it easier for him to install new schemes and plays.
“We had a lot of kids who came back and are now seniors. That really helps us out when we are teaching them the offense and defense,” Gonzalez said. “They were really mature about a new staff coming in and very understanding about the process. I hope that maturity is something that trickles down to our younger players.”
Having a senior loaded class not only helps with the game plan but it also brings leadership to the Hawks locker room. “I could go on and on about these guys and that's what you want to have as a coach,” he said. “You don’t want just one or two leaders, you want 22 leaders - 11 guys on offense and 11 guys on defense.”
Gonzalez has really gotten his athletes on the same page going 3-0 and only allowing 16 points in his first three games. His defense flies to the ball and brings big pressure. He credits his defensive coordinator Jaime Guerra as a guy who brings passion to his players.
“I believe our kids take the character of our coaching staff and he’s excited to be out there every day,” Gonzalez said. “He’s just a guy that has gotten kids to buy in and believe in what we are doing. I think the kids are flying around and having fun, and if they are doing all of that great things will happen.”
Offensively, Gonzalez likes to be fluid. He wants to be very multifaceted in his approach when Harlingen marches down the field. Many of his players can line up anywhere on the field as well as play on both sides of the ball. This allows Gonzalez to always keep his opponent on their toes and make it hard to game plan for.
“I'm a firm believer in taking what the defense gives us, and adjusting accordingly,” he said. “We have athletes that play all over the field which is awesome. Having that versatility is gonna make it hard to stop us.”
Gonzalez preaches the acronym N.F.A.F., which means “No Fear, All Faith”. The game of football can be a very violent and dangerous game. There can’t be any fear when going onto the football field. That is why there needs to be faith in all of the preparation you have done for the game. Faith that you did the right things in the week leading up to the game and faith in your coaches. That is especially true as Harlingen South heads into its district schedule. The rest of the district has a combined 12-5 record as teams start clamoring for the playoffs.
“Our district is a meat grinder, it is loaded from top to bottom,” Gonzalez said. “But we tell our kids that we are our own biggest opponent, it's us against ourselves. Because if we can win that battle we can beat anyone.”
Gonzalez feels that he has all the right pieces for there to be a winning team in Harlingen South. From the coaching staff to his players, everyone is on the same page. It is one thing to put together a winning program, but it is even more special to build it for the community that you call home.
“I'm glad to be back home, I’m excited to be the leader of Harlingen South and there are great things on the horizon,” he said.
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