Rams using spring football to bring players up to speed
To say Del Rio Rams head football coach Rod Taylor is excited about the upcoming season might be an understatement.
Entering his third season as the head coach, Taylor knows that he and his team have a lot to live up to in the 2021 season. The Rams are coming off a season in which they remained in the hunt for a district championship until the final week of the season. And while they got knocked out of the playoffs in the first round, just making it back to the postseason was an accomplishment that Taylor and his coaches feel they can build off of going forward.
In April the team began its spring football practices. This time is more crucial this year than in years past due to the majority of sub-varsity players not having taken a meaningful snap since the fall of 2019 after COVID wiped out their season in 2020.
Taylor is looking to build a new foundation for his team, but that means getting the players to become a family not just on the field, but off it as well.
After one recent practice, Taylor was walking off the field at Walter Levermann Ram Stadium when he saw his son, Zachary, speaking to another player. Taylor asked his son how his arm was feeling, and after learning it was fine he turned his attention to the other young man, a recent arrival to the football program.
The young man was soft-spoken but friendly. In short order, other members of the team began speaking to him and asking for his contact information to ensure he was kept in the loop in regards to activities going on after school. Taylor said seeing that was what he meant by “building a family.”
“That builds unity. They want to include him and make him feel like he belongs here and that’s what we want,” Taylor said.
Taylor won’t be empty-handed as he builds his new team. All-district linemen Joey Huizar and Diego Garcia anchor the offensive line and all-district honorable mentions Jovahn West, Abel Ortiz and Arnulfo Ramirez should help shore up the offense and special teams. Add to that group 2020 contributors like running back Luis Pablo Galaviz and Zachary Taylor, who took some snaps in the playoffs.
On defense, Jesus De Luna leads the unit. He’s the sole first team all-district returner for the defensive side of the ball, but he will be joined by second teamer Diego Piña and experienced returners Nathan Mayes, Fabian Venegas and Lonnie Green.
For now the team is working towards this year’s Spring Game, which is scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday, May 28, at Walter Levermann Ram Stadium.
Rams, Queens soccer players help break KWMC voting records
The accomplishments of this year’s Del Rio High School soccer teams did not go unnoticed by the community.
When KWMC 1490 put out the word they were encouraging folks to vote for the station’s inaugural Del Rio High School Soccer Awards, the hope was for a turnout similar to the previous awards for football and basketball.
Instead, the poll, which honored players from both the Rams and Queens soccer teams, broke the record for votes cast as more than 2,600 votes were cast for the top offensive, top defensive and the rising star for each team.
The awards were presented by a bevy of local Del Rio High School sports supporters including representatives of the Del Rio Rams Soccer Booster Club, Lopez Roofing, Ashley Home Store, Cecil Atkission Ford, Offroad Recovery and Buffalo Wings and Rings.
On the Queens’ side, senior Ema Rojas was named the Offensive Player of the Year. Rojas was a scoring machine for the Queens, racking up 13 goals in 12 district matches. She was one of three Queens to have at least four goals during the district season and a key reason for Del Rio advancing to the playoffs after missing out last season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Senior Jocelyn Martinez was named the Defensive Player of the year. Martinez has been the rock in the Queens defense since she joined the program. She was a first team all-district selection the last two years and her work in the classroom was also recognized as she was an academic all-district and academic all-state honoree.
Freshman Andrea Sauceda was presented with the Queens Rising Star award. Sauceda did not get to play any sub-varsity games due to COVID-19 guidelines, so she was thrust into the varsity scene almost immediately. She did well enough to score a goal and earn an all-district honorable mention selection.
The Rams Offensive Player of the year was senior Angel Aldrete. Aldrete was the key to the Rams machine, leading the team in goals (8) and assists (9). His work wasn’t unrecognized by the district’s coaches as he was named the 30-6A Offensive Player of the Year.
Senior Noe Trujillo was voted the Rams Defensive Player of the Year. Trujillo could easily have been the offensive player of the year, scoring six goals, but his work as a defender was invaluable, often tasked with shadowing the best player on the opposing team. Like Aldrete, Trujillo also earned all-district honors as he was named the district’s Defensive Player of the year.
Junior Roberto Garza was voted the Rams Rising Star. Though Garza didn’t the publicity his teammates did, he was a steady defender who was another big part of the Rams sharing the district championship. He was also a first team, all-district selection this season.
San Felipe Del Rio CISD Athletic Director Ric Smith was also recognized at the awards ceremony as he was presented with the KWMC Alfredo Garza Lifetime Achievement Award.
Leianna Jimenez playing for Texas A&M International University in Laredo
Playing sports at the next level isn’t an easy task for any high school athlete.
According to the official NCAA website, ncaa.org, the odds of a high schooler playing sports collegiately are typically less than 10 percent. In the sport of girls soccer, the number sits around 7.2 percent. According to a survey conducted during the 2018-19 school year, of the 394,105 girls that played high school soccer, 28,310 went on to play in the NCAA.
It breaks down as follows:
2.4 percent went onto play NCAA Division I, which is the more famous schools like the University of Texas or Texas A&M or schools such as those.
1.9 percent went onto play NCAA Division II, which includes schools such as Angelo State, St. Mary’s and University of Texas-Permian Basin.
2.9 percent went onto play NCAA Division III, which includes schools like Concordia, Hardin-Simmons and Sul Ross State.
One Del Rio High alumnus is finding success at the NCAA Division III level with the Texas A&M International University Dustdevils. Freshman Leianna Jimenez, who initially signed a letter of intent to play with Hardin-Simmons University in February 2020, is seeing significant minutes with the Dustdevils and already has her first game-winning goal, which came in overtime against St. Mary’s University March 10.
According to a report from the official Dustdevils website, the goal came off a free kick when the ball was struck by Valeria Macias into the St. Mary’s box. From there, Vivian Martinez was able to find Jimenez who nailed the goal less than three minutes into overtime.
Though the goal was her only tally of the season thus far, Jimenez has seen action in all six of the Dustdevils’ matches this year. She’s played at least 20 minutes in every match and played a career-high 63 minutes against the University of Texas-Permian Basin on March 17.
Though her final season at Del Rio High was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Jimenez still made a big impact. She was named the District 29-6A Offensive Player of the Year. It capped a career in which she was an all-district selection each of her four years with the Queens including being named the district’s Newcomer of the Year in 2017.
J.J. Cervantes’ junior year of high school basketball ended with a little love from the Rams faithful.
Cervantes was named the Best Offensive Player and Best Defensive Player in the inaugural KWMC 1490 Ram Basketball Awards presented earlier this month. The awards, which are voted on by the fans, drew more total votes than the radio station’s football awards.
According to Javier Martinez Jr., KWMC sales manager, more than 1,300 votes were cast for the basketball awards, at least 200 more than were cast for football.
Despite sweeping the awards, Cervantes said the nomination was a surprise but not unexpected.
“I knew I had worked hard to get there. I made varsity last year, so I knew I had to keep up with it this year,” Cervantes said.
“It’s really nice to see basketball get some love. I know basketball wasn’t the main sport in town, but these awards and the turnout show a lot of people are following us and we players are feeling like we’re getting recognition now for how hard we’ve been working,” Cervantes added.
Cervantes announced his arrival this season with a huge home debut, scoring 29 points, including 16 in the fourth quarter, in a loss to Pleasanton. He was the Rams’ leading scorer on offense and his defensive presence at the post made him a game changer for a team that was more up tempo and not just built for the blocks.
For offensive player of the year, Cervantes was nominated alongside Luis Arteaga, William Proffit and Nick Rivera. For defensive player of the year, Cervantes was nominated with Rivera, Cesar Gavia and Eli Webster.
Cervantes credits his father, Juan Cervantes, for helping him improve throughout the season.
“The big difference for me this year versus last year I think was more listening. I mean, my dad helped me a lot. He would help me work on the things I had trouble with and wanted to improve on. I got a lot of support from my parents, and I’m pretty sure that was the big difference for me,” Cervantes said.
This was a tough year for the Rams. Their season came to a premature end after they were forced to suspend play in January due to high COVID-19 positivity rates in the community. Once they were cleared to return, making up those lost games was too great a task.
Cervantes said he learned that for the team to get better, the players needed to stay in contact and be on the same page. “You’re not a team if you’re not being a team. It doesn’t have to be just basketball to build that team chemistry,” Cervantes said.
Talamantez, Huerta honored with inaugural KWMC Football Awards
By Brian Argabright
Del Rio has spoken, and the community loves its high school football.
More than 1,100 votes were cast in the inaugural KWMC Football Awards and the first three award winners were announced in a small ceremony at the radio station’s studio Dec. 26.
Del Rio Rams running back Aiden Huerta was named Offensive Player of the Year while defensive lineman Jaden Talamantez was named Defensive Player of the Year and overall Most Valuable Player. Both Huerta and Talamantez are seniors at Del Rio High School.
This is the first time in more than a decade that a local media outlet publicly presented any kind of sports award. Javier Martinez Jr., sales manager at KWMC, said it made sense to honor Del Rio’s student-athletes and said the football awards were just the beginning.
“We felt this was something that needed to be done. We wanted to show these players some recognition for all the hard work they’ve put in, from Pee Wee all the way to their senior year,” Martinez said. “This is the first year we’ve been able to reach a lot of people through our coverage of the Rams football games due to the coronavirus. A lot of negative came out of 2020, so we felt there needed to be something positive to cap this year off.”
Huerta and wide receiver Ricky Haynes were nominated for offensive players of the year. Talamantez was nominated for defensive player of the year along with linebackers Andrew Garza, Alejandro De Luna and Jesus De Luna. All six players were eligible for the MVP award.
The awards were decided by votes cast by the fans through the Internet. Voting took place over three days.
The awards were presented by a trio of community leaders. Community activist and advocate Claudia Lopez Cruz presented the Offensive Player of the Year award, 830 Times Sports Editor Brian Argabright presented the Defensive Player of the Year award, and Val Verde County Commissioner, Precinct 2 Juan Carlos Vazquez presented the MVP award.
Due to the holiday travel, Talamantez was the only player on hand to receive his award on the day they were presented.
The awards were the first for Huerta and Talamantez, but not the last. Huerta was later named District 30-6A First Team running back via a unanimous vote, and Talamantez was named the district’s Most Outstanding Defensive Lineman.
Martinez said he hoped the awards would become an annual tradition for KWMC and said he hoped football would be the first of many sports to be recognized.
“It’s not much but it helps people know that we were watching and I hope it serves as a motivator for these kids next year and going forward,” Martinez said. “This is just the start. We have plans for basketball as well and hopefully other sports to follow.”
By Brian Argabright
Forgive Del Rio Rams head basketball coach Joe Nieto if he seems a bit frazzled.
Now in his sixth year as the head man of the boys hoops team, Nieto has never seen a season like the one he’s facing right now. He’s lost a handful of returns due to concerns surrounding COVID-19, including the latest one this week, and earlier this month his team had its own brush with the coronavirus when San Antonio Cornerstone, the team they had just played days earlier, announced two of its players had tested positive for the virus. That meant all of the Rams that played in that game had to be tested.
The good news is all the players and coaches tested negative, and the team was able to get back to work just before Thanksgiving.
The bad news is the testing and required safety precautions pushed back the Rams’ home debut to Saturday, Dec. 5 against Pleasanton at noon.
Leading the Rams this year are a pair of all-district returners in senior Luis Arteaga and junior Juan “J.J.” Cervantes. Both were honorable mention selections in 2019, and Nieto said Cervantes was averaging a double-double in Del Rio’s first few games this season.
Joining them are returners Nick Rivera and Eli Webster and first-year varsity player Will Proffit, who was part of the Del Rio High tennis team in the fall and played on the Rams junior varsity basketball team last season.
The Rams will play 27 games this season. Masks will be required when on the bench or during timeouts, but players have the option to wear them or not when in the game. They’re encouraged to wear them during free throws, though. All of those are UIL recommendations. Nieto said the masks, usually in the form of gaiters, are mandatory during practice. The other big change for the program is no sub-varsity teams.
As for district play, which begins Dec. 18 at home against Laredo United, Nieto said this will be another competitive season for the Rams as teams like United, Laredo Nixon, United South and others return much of their starters.
“It’s a deep district again this year. We have to continue to get better and fill our roles, but with the right attitude and willingness to learn we can succeed. Once our guys learn the style they have to adapt to to be competitive I believe we can do it,” Nieto said.