Santa Anna Mountaineers continue climb toward playoff return in 2021
Jack Graves guided the Santa Anna football team from a 1-9 record in 2019 to a five-win improvement of 6-4 last year.
Now, in his third season as head coach of the six-man Mountaineers, Graves hopes to gain consistency and continue the improvement.
“Really, we’re just looking to build off the positives of last year,” Graves said. “I know that sounds like a cliché, but it’s true. We improved quite a bit last year, but we’ve got to learn how to practice and how to play the right way all the time. It’s a learning process.”
Santa Anna scored a lot last season, including 108 points against district opponent Lingleville, 74 against Moran, and 68 against Rising Star. The Mountaineers averaged 46 points per game, but their defense allowed 36 points per start.
And in the highly competitive, five-team District 13-1A Division I, Santa Anna finished fourth with a 1-3 record. All three district losses to Baird, May and Gorman were by the 45-point rule.
“The biggest difference for us last year was our improved work ethic,” Graves said. “It started in the offseason, even though that was strange because of COVID. The kids came back ready to work. Participation was higher, and our attitude was better.
“It has carried over to now, really. But even though our work ethic is better, we still need to be more consistent in practice. We see glimpses of what we need to be during practice, but we’re not consistent enough."
Despite losing just two seniors from last year and returning eight starters overall, the Mountaineers are fitting in some new pieces on offense. Silas Lara, a 5-foot-9, 195-pound senior, will take over as the main running back – a position he assumed during district play last season. Junior Bruce Brown (5-7, 140) will take over at quarterback after splitting time last season.
Sophomore Jacob Jemenz returns at receiver after starting last year as a freshman. Devan Ray, another sophomore, returns as an offensive lineman, although he’s mending from a preseason injury. Senior receivers Blake Taylor and Trystan Rice have proven to be valuable role players on offense.
Tatum Cantu, a junior who didn’t play football last year, is expected to play a major role at running back.
“He’s raw and lacks experience, but he’s going to be a big help on offense and defense,” Graves said of Cantu.
On defense, senior Kellen Evans (5-5, 150) returns at linebacker after leading the Mountaineers with 85 tackles last year. Lara is also a returning starter at defensive end, as is Rice at safety. Senior Ryan Walker is a utility player who will see considerable playing time at multiple defensive positions.
After playing multiple positions last season, Taylor is expected to settle in at nose guard. Jemenz is projected to play defensive end after not playing defense last year. Cantu is expected to help at linebacker and cornerback.
Brown gives the Mountaineers a solid presence at kicker, an important position in six-man football with extra-point kicks worth two points.
Santa Anna still has an uphill climb against defending state runner-up May, Baird and Gorman in district.
“Our district is really tough,” Graves said. “May is good every year, and Baird has a lot of seniors. Every team will be as strong if not stronger than last year.”
Beyond this season, the future looks bright for Santa Anna, which has 10 freshmen among its 29 high school players and should easily field a varsity and JV team.
“I’m excited that our freshmen will get a lot of playing time on the JV this year,” Graves said. “There are some good players in our freshmen class, but they’re still a couple of years away. They can play a full JV schedule this year with no pressure on them.”
Santa Anna Mountaineers
District: 13-1A Division I
Head coach: Jack Graves
Last year’s record: 6-4; 1-3 in district
Last district title/playoff appearance: 2016/2016
Stadium: Mountaineer Field
Returning lettermen: 19
Returning off./def. starters: 4/4
Base offense: N/A
Base defense: N/A
Team strength: Depth
Team weakness: Lack of recent success
Players to watch
RB/DL Silas Lara (5-9, 195), SB/LB Kellen Evans (5-5, 150), WR/DB Trysten Rice (5-11, 160), QB/K Bruce Brown (5-7, 140), OL/DL Trevor Minshew (6-0, 235), QB/DB Otillo Padilla (6-0, 150), WR/RB Jacob Jemenz, E/LB Devan Ray, RB Tatum Cantu, UB Ryan Walker
Aug. 27 Trent
Sept. 3 Rising Star
Sept. 10 Abilene Christian
Sept. 17 at Brookesmith
Sept. 24 at Olfen
Oct. 1 Panther Creek
Oct. 8 at Baird*
Oct. 15 May*
Oct. 22 at Lingleville*
Oct. 29 at Gorman*
Trent W 46-0
Moran W 74-35
Rising Star W 68-22
Brookesmith L 8-54)
Olfen W 60-0
Panther Creek W 58-6
Baird L 16-66
May L 0-51
Lingleville W 108-63
Gorman L 22-68