Early in the season, a large question mark hung over the heads of the Hanna coaching staff.
After losing last year’s starting quarterback, Jacob Molina, to graduation, Golden Eagles coach Rene Medrano had to decide who among three candidates could fill the role.
But there was no question about the running game. It was solid.
Even with fullback Travis Grienier returning to full strength after breaking his hand in last season’s first game, and wearing a cast for the remainder of the season.
Add in junior running backs Fernando Mendez and Brando Barreda, and the Eagles were set.
But each felt the pressure during the preseason. The offensive production was on their shoulders without a consistent presence under center.
“I know I felt the pressure,” Grienier said. “I was blocking in the backfield and the blame was on me if I didn’t do my job.”
Medrano and his coaching staff used sophomore Andres Lopez, junior Lucas Olivares and senior Richard Martinez at quarterback during various times during their non-district games, trying to find some consistency.
Unfortunately for them, without a true starter, the Eagles’ running backs were expected to carry the offensive load until a quarterback was named.
“I think they felt the pressure and they have come through it,” Medrano said. “I am really proud of these kids, all three of them.”
Not one of them complained about the situation, either.
“We just had to be patient,” Mendez said. “We knew we were going to come together as a team once we found our quarterback.”
A few weeks ago, Hanna finally named its starter at quarterback in Lopez. Olivares and Martinez have since moved to play as wide receivers.
As the quarterback and the receivers find their timing in the passing game, the running-backs-by-committee approach has been the most consistent aspect of Hanna’s offense.
“I think we have tweaked (the running game) to get to this point and we’re OK,” Medrano said. “I think it’s going good so far. Travis is a senior leader and Brando and Fernie (Mendez) share the carry load, so it’s all good.”
The trio of running backs has rushed for 621 yards on 103 carries, a 6-yard average per carry and has scored seven touchdowns in five games this season.
And with a group of running backs, the Eagles have fresh legs in the game at all times, especially during the fourth quarter.
“That has certainly helped,” Medrano said. “If someone gets banged up, someone else is able to step up in their spot.”
Now with the quarterback issue settled, the Eagles offense has been running on all cylinders.
“Everyone has bought into what we are doing right now, so that’s important,” Medrano said. “I think everything is somewhat falling into place for us, but we know we have a long road ahead of us.”
That long road comes to a big road block this Friday in District 32-5A. The Eagles play host to undefeated Harlingen South, whose defense has only allowed 151 yards of offense per game and has yielded a total of seven points.
And the trio has put in extra film work to help against the stout Harlingen South defense.
“We have gone over their formations on film and watched how they will react,” Barreda said.
The Hanna running backs are up for the challenge against the Hawks defense. But the game plan remains the same, no matter the opponent.
“We just need to run hard,” Mendez said.
Grienier added: “We just need to hold on to the ball and we know the linemen will do their job.”
For the Hanna running backs, their job remains the same and they have been consistent for the Eagles offense all season.
“We still have to run hard regardless who our quarterback is,” Barreda said. “We get better and better every day and just have to keep it up every game. It’s a big game for us (against Harlingen South) for playoff positions; it’s a really big game.”
Andrew Crum covers sports for The Brownsville Herald. You can reach him at (956) 982-6629 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @andrewmcrum.