By Pat Turner
Oscar Cardenas knew he would be a perfect fit at tight end.
The Brandeis athlete was enjoying coming up with sacks as a defensive end, but catching passes and blocking appealed to him even more. A dual role would provide bigger opportunities to showcase his skills. All he needed was an opportunity.
Cardenas got his wish going into his junior year when Brandeis coaches made the move.
As expected, tight end has been the ideal situation. Not only has Cardenas solidified the position for the Broncos, he’s getting an opportunity to continue his tight end work at UTSA.
For the time being, the Brandeis senior is focused on making contributions for the Broncos. And the contributions are coming consistently with a chance to do more.
Brandeis faces Austin Westlake for the Class 6A Division II Region IV championship at 6 p.m. Saturday in the Alamodome.
Cardenas has played a big role throughout Brandeis’ 10-2 season, coming up with consistent blocks while catching 27 passes for 477 yards and five touchdowns.
“I always thought I could be a tight end,” said Cardenas, who moved up to varsity as a freshman to help the defensive line. “I always thought it was exciting. I like to catch passes. I always liked blocking.
“This year has been very exciting. I’m happy with my blocking. I’m putting up more yards on catches. I’m getting more opportunities. It can be hard to cover a tight end. I’m making it work. I feel like tight end comes natural for me.”
Making the adjustment came naturally.
The blocking improved through repetition and work in practice. He also discovered playing baseball helped his pass-catching.
Another advantage was being part of a coaching family. His father Oscar coached at Harlandale for several years. Two uncles (Edward, head, Javier, assistant, Cardenas) are at Jefferson. Another uncle (Alex Cardenas) is head coach at Edison. In addition, his aunt (Yami Garcia) is the volleyball coach at O’Connor.
“It helps that I have been around the game a lot,” Cardenas said. “I know you have to work hard. In baseball, I play catcher and that’s helped me with my hand-eye coordination. On the blocking, I learned from working and doing things over and over. That makes it easier.”
Cardenas, however, isn’t limited to his tight end responsibilities. He’s thrown a couple passes during trick-play situations and has punted on occasion. Because of his previous success on defense, Cardenas has been called on to help on that side of the ball.
That was the case in Brandeis’ 31-16 area playoff win over Steele when he came up to make a stop to halt a potential scoring drive.
“I love being involved,” Cardenas said. “I love making plays anywhere on the field.”
This year has been Cardenas’ best.
Brandeis advanced to the playoffs his sophomore year but missed out last season.
After coming up short, Cardenas and the Broncos made a commitment during the offseason to return to the post-season.
Things are going better than Cardenas expected. Despite sporting a younger look, the Broncos grew up quickly. Now, they’re reaping the benefits.
Offensively, quarterback Jordan Battles has developed into a quality leader. Big plays are also coming from J. Nova Rangel, Brandon Pake and Josh Suarez, while the line has provided the needed protection. In addition, the defense is doing its part.
That was the case last week as Brandeis rallied from a 19-point deficit for a 33-32 regional semifinals win over Brownsville Hanna.
“It is going great,” Cardenas said. “There’s something different. It’s fun. I think a lot of it has to do with the leadership. We really got into it before the season even started. We went with it during the summer and two-a-days. It’s carried into the season.
“I’ve tried to be a better leader and help the younger guys prepare. They’re doing a phenomenal job, but we have to stay focused, especially in practice. When we got behind (against Hanna) I told them to stay together, we had another quarter to play.”
Playing three games in the Alamodome is also special for Cardenas. After all, at UTSA he’ll be calling the Dome home.
“I love playing there,” Cardenas said. “The environment is awesome. It’s great.”