Back at home: Confident Refugio will be playing at home again, eyeing another state title

Len Hayward
Corpus Christi Caller Times

REFUGIO — It’s not hard to understand the excitement of Jason Herring.

The veteran Refugio football coach has seen plenty during his tenure, including leading his program through Hurricane Harvey and last year through a pandemic with no home games, and still finding ways to win games in bunches.

This season, though, the confidence surrounding the Bobcats program is buoyed by the realization that they will play all their games at home.

Beyond the fact the team returns eight starters on offense, which includes arguably the best receiving corps south of Interstate 10, and seven starters on one of the state’s best small-school defenses, the chance to play in front of home fans in a revamped stadium has No. 1 Refugio ready to live up to the preseason hype.

High school football:Calallen, Refugio open season atop Corpus Christi area high school football power rankings

Refugio's Antwaan Gross runs with the ball during practice, Friday, Aug. 6, 2021. This is the first week of practice for the team.

“We played every seventh grade game, every eighth grade game, every (junior varsity) game and every varsity game on the road last year,” Herring said. “Plus, in the middle of a pandemic, I can’t even put into words how hard that was. It was hard on our community, it was hard on our kids, it was hard on our coaches.”

Jack Sportman Bobcat Stadium was deemed unsafe prior to last season and went through some structural upgrades over the last year. Now, the stadium is ready to host games again and will be home to a team that is ranked No. 1 in Class 2A Division I by Dave Campbell’s Texas Football Magazine.

The ranking, though, means little to the players or coaches. It is holding that trapezoid shaped trophy in Arlington that is the goal for this team no matter the week, no matter the game.

Players know they have plenty of experience and talent returning but they are not living off past success. What still bugs them is losing to eventual state champion Shiner in the third round of the playoffs in 2020.

“Rankings don’t really matter that much but we are going to live up to it, we’ve worked too hard,” said senior wide receiver Antwaan Gross. “We lost in the fourth round, and we didn’t want to lose and we are coming back for revenge.”

Refugio's Isaiah Avery pauses during practice, Friday, Aug. 6, 2021. This is the first week of practice for the team.

From offense to defense, the Bobcats are loaded with two-way talent that includes Gross, Jordan Kelley, Ty LaFrance and Isaiah Avery, along with quarterback Caleb Hesseltine, who is a year older after a stellar season throwing for more than 2,100 yards and 25 touchdowns in 2020.

This season they will have a chance to showcase that talent in front of their fans at home as they begin a quest for a sixth state championship.

“The rankings, expectations … football is big around here,” Hesseltine said. “I just feel like we work hard in the summer and we just put in work all season long, and we trust our coaches.”

CALLER-TIMES CLASS 2A/PRIVATE SCHOOL PREDICTIONS

15-2A DIVISION I: 1. Refugio; 2. Three Rivers; 3. Kenedy; 4. Freer; 5. Bloomington

16-2A DIVISION I: 1. Premont; 2. Ben Bolt; 3. Riviera; 4. La Villa; 5. Santa Maria

16-2A DIVISION II: 1. Falls City; 2. Yorktown; 3. Louise; 4. Pettus; 5. Runge; 6. Woodsboro; 7. Agua Dulce

TAPPS DIVISION II, DISTRICT 3: 1. Austin Regents; 2. Austin St. Michael’s; 3. Boerne Geneva; 4. Brownsville St. Joseph; 5. John Paul II; 6. Austin Hyde Park; 7. Austin Brentwood; 8. San Antonio St. Anthony’s

COASTAL BEND AREA CLASS 2A/PRIVATE SCHOOL PREVIEW CAPSULES

CLASS 2A DIVISION I

BEN BOLT

District: 16-2A Division I

Head coach: Gary Cunningham

2020 record: 1-1, 1-1

Last district title: 2016

Last playoff appearance: 2020

Enrollment: 178

Returning starters: 6 offense, 7 defense

TOP PLAYERS

RB-LB Arnold Navarro, sr.; LB Talaine Mohamed, jr.; RB Dashawn Mohamed, jr.; QB-DB David Perez, jr.; OL-DL Adam Pena, sr.; OL-LB Troy Rodriguez, jr.

OUTLOOK FOR 2021

The Badgers played two games last season because of COVID-19 protocols but return some key players from a team that earned a playoff spot but could not play their game. Cunningham enters his second season leading the team and is hoping to use the full offseason and summer to help establish his program.

Ben Bolt head football coach Gary Cunningham stands during the team's practice, Saturday, Oct. 3, 2020, at Ben Bolt-Palito Blanco High School. The team was the first in Texas to cancel its football season because of COVID-19, but the school board voted to reinstate the season.

FREER

District: 15-2A Division I

Head coach: Robert Williams

2020 record: 3-4, 2-2

Last district title: 2002

Last playoff appearance: 2020

Enrollment: 222

Returning starters: 6 offense, 5 defense

TOP PLAYERS

QB-DB Elliott Ramirez; WR-DB Trey Ramirez; DB-WR John Cantu

OUTLOOK FOR 2021

Freer should be in the playoff mix in 15-2A Division I, and will be looking for wins against Three Rivers and Kenedy to do it.

PREMONT

District: 16-2A Division I

Head coach: Ruben Cantu

2020 record: 5-4, 3-0

Last district title: 2020

Last playoff appearance: 2020

Enrollment: 190

Returning starters: 5 offense, 4 defense

TOP PLAYERS

RB-LB J.T. Torres; RB-DB Andrew Christian; QB Esteban LaFuente

OUTLOOK FOR 2021

Christian was the offensive player of the year in the district in 2020 and is part of a solid 1-2 punch in the backfield with Torres. The two combined for 994 yards in the Cowboys run-heavy attack.

REFUGIO

District: 15-2A Division I

Head coach: Jason Herring

2020 record: 11-1, 4-0

Last district title: 2020

Last playoff appearance: 2020

Enrollment: 204.5

Returning starters: 8 offense, 7 defense

TOP PLAYERS

WR-DB Antwaan Gross; WR-DB Jordan Kelley; TE-DL Ty LaFrance; QB Caleb Hesseltine; RB-DB Isaiah Avery

OUTLOOK FOR 2021

The Bobcats have a state title on their mind this season after being knocked off by eventual state champion Shiner in the playoffs. Refugio, who will also be playing at home for the first time since 2019, should roll through district play as they get ready for what they expect is an extended playoff run to Arlington.

RIVIERA

District: 16-2A Division I

Head coach: Joe Barron

2020 record: 0-4, 0-2

Last district title: 1984

Last playoff appearance: 2017

Enrollment: 174

Returning starters: 6 offense, 7 defense

TOP PLAYERS

QB Jared Wallace; LB-RB Robert Mayo

OUTLOOK FOR 2021

Barron takes over in Riviera and is looking to win the program’s first game since 2019 after a shortened season in 2020. The Seahawks last made the postseason in 2017 and could be in the hunt to make it this season. Wallace is a returning all-district player.

THREE RIVERS

District: 15-2A Division I

Head coach: Ramon Soliz

2020 record: 5-6, 1-3

Last district title: 2017

Last playoff appearance: 2020

Enrollment: 197

Returning starters: 8 offense, 7 defense

TOP PLAYERS

WR-DB Sean Huff, sr.; RB-LB Rigoverto Sanchez, sr.; RB-WR-LB Zach Davis, sr.; TE-LB Jacob Amaro, jr.

OUTLOOK FOR 2021

The Bulldogs will take a senior-heavy team into the 2021 season looking to finish second in district play and put together a playoff run in arguably the toughest region in Class 2A Division II. Huff, Sanchez, Davis and Amaro were all first team all-district selections in 2020.

CLASS 2A DIVISION II

AGUA DULCE

District: 16-2A Division II

Head coach: Gary Hartman

2020 record: 1-5, 1-5

Last district title: 2019

Last playoff appearance: 2019

Enrollment: 130

Returning starters: 6 offense, 6 defense

TOP PLAYERS 

WR-LB Donald Mann; WR-LB Eduardo Hernandez

OUTLOOK FOR 2021

An experience offensive line should help Hartman’s transition as the Longhorns look to return to the playoffs after winning one game in is shortened 2020 season.

BENAVIDES

District: 15-2A Division II

Head coach: Marcus Zubia

2020 record: 0-5, 0-5

Last district title: 1985

Last playoff appearance: 2016

Enrollment: 101

Returning starters: 8 offense, 8 defense

TOP PLAYERS

RB-DL Nathan Perez, sr.; LB Daniel Elizondo, jr.; DB Sergio Benavente, sr.; WR-LB Jonathan Alaniz

OUTLOOK FOR 2021

The Eagles begin Zubia’s second season with plenty of experience on both sides of the ball, which could be good for a team looking for its first playoff appearance since 2016. Perez was a two-way all-district player in 2020 along with Alaniz.

WOODSBORO

District: 16-2A Division II

Head coach: Johny Lesak

2020 record: 1-6, 0-5

Last district title: 2018

Last playoff appearance: 2018

Enrollment: 116

Returning starters: 10 offense, 10 defense

TOP PLAYERS

WR-LB James Mecham; RB-DL Colton Wiginton; OL-DL Derrick Perez; OL-DL Logan Meacham; QB-DB Roger Gonzales

OUTLOOK FOR 2021

With 10 starters returning on both sides of the ball, Lesak’s second season could see a turnaround from the struggles of a shortened 2020 season. Gonzales threw for more than 600 yards last season. The Eagles should compete for a playoff spot in the district.

John Paul II football players attend strength and conditioning workouts, Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020.

PRIVATE SCHOOLS

JOHN PAUL II

District: TAPPS Division II, District 3

Head coach: Marco Hernandez (interim)

2020 record: 5-5, 3-3

Last district title: Never

Last playoff appearance: 2020

Returning starters: 9 offense, 7 defense

TOP PLAYERS

RB Aliajah Allen; WR Aidan Olivo, sr.; WR Chance Dittman, sr.; LB Dashawn Fillmore, sr.

OUTLOOK FOR 2021

The Centurions are having to regroup after former coach Andrew Leon was fired earlier this month but return enough experience could make a run at the program's first district title and a playoff berth. Allen rushed for more than 1,000 yards last season and Olivo was hampered by injuries but is one of the area's best two-way players. 

Len Hayward is a USA Today Sports Network Region sports director and the Caller-Times sports editor. Support more coverage like this by checking out our subscription options and special offers at Caller.com/subscribe