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Starting preseason workouts special for Vikings, other area teams

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Posted: Monday, August 5, 2019 9:13 pm

For Pace’s Matthew Garza, a senior cornerback, the first day of football practice is something pretty special, kind of like Christmas and his birthday all rolled into one.

“It’s the best feeling ever,” the 5-foot-8, 155-pound Garza said Monday as the Vikings gathered for their first official workout of the 2019 season. “You get to come out and work with your brothers and everything as a family, and you get to practice to get better for district. It’s the best feeling, and I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world.”

According to UIL rules, Monday was the first day for football workouts for all teams that didn’t play spring football. For the ones that had spring ball, they’ll start practice next week.

Conditioning is an important activity during the first few days of practice. The players won’t don pads until Saturday. That’s when the hitting starts, and many teams have intrasquad scrimmages scheduled.

The Vikings return six or seven starters on offense and three starters on defense. They are seeking a third straight season of qualifying for the playoffs after going 7-4 overall last year and finishing as the District 32-5A Division I runner-up with a 7-2 record.

It’s Danny Pardo’s third season as the head coach.

“It’s looking pretty good today,” Pardo said of the first day’s attendance. “We’ve got about 95 percent of our players here, so that helps. There are about 125 players out here, and that’s a good number. We’ve got about 55 freshmen to go with our older players. We’ve got the numbers that we need.”

Two returning starters not among the group Monday were quarterback Jose Banda and defensive end/inside linebacker Jay Gomez. Banda was away playing with his baseball team Monday and Gomez was fulfilling a military obligation. Both are expected to be on hand today.

“In the past, these guys didn’t know just how to react because it was something new (under me as coach),” Pardo said. “Now they know what to expect and they react just like you would expect. They’re working just like it’s just another day (at practice). There’s no nervousness about the first day.

“Even though we’re going to be a little young, especially on defense, these guys have seen two groups that have done well (the past two seasons), so to them it’s understood (what the expectations are this season),” Pardo added. “They want to follow what the other two groups have done.”

Although the Vikings won’t have quite the size they had one season ago on the offensive line, they have a fairly imposing tackle in senior Rafael Recio, a 6-4, 305-pounder, who is a three-year starter.

“I feel good to be out here on the field with my teammates,” Recio said. “We were here every day during the summer putting in work and getting mentally and physically prepared for this, so we should get positive results from here on.

“The potential for this team is very good,” he added. “As long as we come together and all work as a team, we should have a positive turnout. Our main goal is to get past the first round of the playoffs. We’re going after three times in a row in the playoffs with getting past the first round. Like I said, if we work all together as one, it should happen.

“If we work hard, we’re going to be a very good team. I just want to let all the people know that the Vikings are coming. We’re on our way for three (straight playoff appearances). All glory to God.”

Besides the Vikings pursuing a third consecutive playoff trip, there are many other storylines to follow in Cameron County this football season.

Among them are the Hanna Golden Eagles and the La Feria Lions, each of whom will be trying to defend district championships. Last season, Hanna went 10-2 overall and won District 32-6A with a 5-0 record. Also one year ago, La Feria finished 11-2 overall with a 4-0 showing in District 16-4A Division I.

Both teams advanced three rounds in the playoffs in 2018, a feat they would like to equal or surpass this season.

Hanna coach Mark Guess was pleased with the turnout of approximately 100 players to Monday morning’s workout.

“I was satisfied to see the effort given by the athletes,” Guess said. “Actually, scheme-wise, we’re ahead of where we were at this point last year. We’re expecting to pick up our numbers as we get closer to the start of school.”

La Feria coach Oscar Salinas had a lot of positives to say about his group after the first workout.

“We had a great day,” Salinas said. “The players came in in good shape and ready for another season. We had 130 players from freshmen to seniors.”

The Port Isabel Tarpons welcomed approximately 100 players to their team’s first practice.

“It was a solid opening day of training camp for the Tarpons,” said coach Jason Strunk, who is beginning his second season guiding Port Isabel. “It’s amazing what a year can do. We hit the ground running (Monday) morning. The players know the routine. They know the plays. They know the schemes. They understand our nutrition expectations.

“A year into this and we are off and running,” Strunk added. “We had roughly 100 players on the field (Monday), which is a good way to start. We know we are missing some. They will be here (today).

“The first day was a good one. We’ll be back at it (today) at 6 a.m. We need to get better (today) and every day following.”

The next important date for football comes Saturday with the donning of pads and the first date for full contact. After that, the next important date is Aug. 15, which is when teams can start scrimmaging.

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