The Pacheco High football team has surprised some people this year with a powerful offense. While Juwan Epperson and Frank Ginda are easily recognizable names to fans of the team, it’s been the offensive line that has laid the foundation for the team’s success.
For left tackle Josh Tui, left guard Wyatt Orozco, center Victor Cortez, right guard Jesse Cortez and right tackle Joseph Coronado, the best thing to see is the back of a teammate’s jersey as he breaks a long run, and the best thing to hear is a teammate’s name shouted over the loudspeakers. Tight end Hunter Mendez and defensive lineman Nick Vermillion also play a big part in the offensive line.
“They know they’re not the ones in the limelight, they know they don’t get the flashy pictures in the paper from scoring a touchdown,” said Chuck Hale, who coaches the offensive line along with Brian Rodoni. “It’s Frank the Tank, it’s Ginda’s name being announced over the loudspeaker, but they take great pride and honor in watching him sail away.”
Added Rodoni, “They’re hard-working and coachable. They put in their time in the offseason.”
The Pacheco offensive line goes beyond just teammates – the linemen stand together on the sidelines, they walk together on campus, and they eat lunch together.
“It’s ridiculous how much time we spend together,” Victor Cortez said. “This offensive line, we’ve been playing together for about three years now. We really have a bond. It’s something special.”
That bond starts at Hale’s dinner table, where the line has gathered for meals every Thursday night for the last two years.
“We bring them together just so they get that sense of unity, that feeling of interacting with one another, that camaraderie and trust between them, and putting that and translating that on the field,” Hale said. “It kind of brings them out of the football aspect of it, and the high-intensity practice and the coaches breathing down their neck and everything else, and it brings them to a dinner table.
“It’s a more relaxed atmosphere. It lets them get to know each other a little better, lets us see them in a different light. Maybe there’s something that we can observe when we’re having a meal and talking to them. It changes our approach to coaching.”
Rubbing shoulders at the dinner table has made it run smoother when the linemen are rubbing shoulder pads on the field. It’s obvious to the players themselves, and to the coaches.
“I think it’s their bond and the way they approach the business,” head coach David Snapp said. “They take things really personal. They want the buck to stop with them. They want to set the example for the team.
“I think without a doubt, they are the key to (Ginda and Moffat Teneng’s) successes. Even Juwan’s success. Everything we do in the backfield, or throwing the ball, is all related to how well they play up front.”
Epperson presents an extra challenge for the linemen – they never know if the speedy quarterback is going to get rid of the ball quickly or pull it down and take off down the field.
“It makes us know we have to just stay on our man, knowing we can’t be lazy. Laziness isn’t really an option for us if we have a quarterback like that,” Victor Cortez said. “We know even if we’re just pass protecting and he starts running around, if you’re with that man, he’s blocked pretty much. But if you just go and you think the ball is gone, you let him go and you’re ready to go somewhere else, and it’s done.”
Orozco says it doesn’t matter who’s behind them, whether it’s Ginda’s power-run style, Teneng’s shifty style or Epperson’s happy feet.
“We’ll block for anybody,” he said.
Pacheco, in just its third varsity season, has already locked its second straight playoff berth with a 6-3 record. It’s a far cry from the team’s 2-8 season when Orozco and Victor Cortez were sophomores. But they say that season made them more mature, both physically and mentally.
“I think of it this way – we have gone through hell and back,” Orozco said.
Jesse Cortez and Tui started as sophomores last year as Pacheco went 5-6, losing to Oakdale in the first round of the playoffs. The only starter Pacheco graduated from last year’s line was Juan “Truffles” Trujillo, who is helping out this year. Coronado stepped into his spot.
“We pound into their heads that it’s not OK to just be good, we want to be great. Let’s not settle for good,” Hale said. “Besides the hard work and being coachable, I think they relish the opportunity to have the game on their backs, on their shoulders.”
The Panthers have two week to prepare for the final regular-season with, the Crosstown Clash against Los Banos. They also have two weeks to stew on their 21-14 loss to undefeated Patterson.
“I thought they’d be a little more physical, and I think that kind of threw us off our game,” Snapp said. “Their whole thing was to back up a couple of steps and our guys were getting out in front of themselves and kind of lunging at the guy a little bit instead of just running through guys. I expected, and I’m sure our guys did too, we expected them to come off the ball hard, and they really didn’t. I think that kind of threw us a little bit.”
The Pacheco coaches challenged their linemen to know their Los Banos opponent inside and out over these two weeks.
“So far they seem like they’ve taken to it,” Snapp said. “If you look at their Hudl accounts, they’re all on the film all the time.”