Falcons looking to soar higher

By Pat Turner

Conrad Hernandez has been a big part of Stevens’ football program since the beginning.

It’s been a special time to say the least. During the 14-year stint, the Holmes graduate has been part of the growth as an assistant and head coach. There’s been ups and downs along the way, but the ups have clearly outweighed the downs with such highlights as advancing to the Class 5A Division I semifinals in 2010.

As Hernandez begins the second year as the Falcons’ head coach, he’s looking for more positive moves.

“It’s been special,” said Hernandez, who served as an assistant under Lee Bridges and Darryl Hemphill before taking over the program. “I am very blessed to have been here 14 years. It’s a great community. It’s a great school. I love working with these kids. We have great support.

“Stevens is a great place. We’ve struggled some years, but ultimately, we figure out how to bounce back. We always have competitive teams. It’s great being the head coach. I’ve had great mentors. I have great opportunities to blossom.”

The first season had its struggles as a young Stevens crew battled through a 3-7 (2-3 in zone play) finish. The Falcons took their lumps, but through it all, Hernandez saw strides being made.

With more experience present, Hernandez looks for a brighter showing in 2018.

Hernandez saw that determination throughout the offseason as the players made it clear they were ready to bounce back. The rebound is still a work in progress, but the second-year coach believes things are starting to come together.

“We were competitive in most games last year,” said Hernandez, who helped start football programs at Luna and Connally Middle Schools before coming to Stevens. “If you take a couple plays away we probably could have been 5-5 or maybe 6-4. But we knew going into last year we were going to be young. We were going to play some kids who had not played at that level.

“But the main thing we focused on each week was to be competitive and to make sure we got better. That’s what we focused on the offseason, too. The kids worked hard in the offseason. They worked hard in the summer. It’s their time. We’re focusing on taking the next step. These kids are hungry. They want to win. They’re working to put themselves in that position.”

Offensively, the Falcons have the athletes to make big plays, but the key to that success rests in the strength of a sturdy front headed by Michael Valadez, Matthew Benitez, Chris Boling, Nathan Munoz, Isaiah Grady and Richard Rodriguez. Their presence should make things go much smoother for quarterback Josh Ramirez and running back Clarence Lee to show their skills, along with receivers D’Juan Elliott, who moves from the secondary, Gabriel Flores, Santiago Martinez and Josh Lopez.

“I’m really excited about our offensive line,” Hernandez said. “We haven’t had an offensive line like this in a while. They played as sophomores last year and really improved. We have the potential to do great things with this group.

“I really like our quarterback. His work ethic is like no other. He worked in the offseason to get better. He’s going to be a great manager of the game. I am looking forward to seeing his ability to go out there and make plays. Clarence Lee will be a huge asset. He’s continued to grow. We have receivers who can make plays.”

Stevens’ defense also sports an improved look with linemen Noah Caballero and Josh Gonzalez, who saw action a year ago as a freshman, linebacker Deyvaughn Martin and defensive back Matthew Littlejohn.

“We feel good about our defense,” Hernandez said. “We have some kids who played last year and improved. We have some young guys who are going to step up.”

Now, steady play. Like the other District 28-6A teams, good things must happen quickly as nine league games are on the agenda. Hernandez knows the Falcons have to deliver top-notch effort every week.

From the early reports, the battle for the four playoff positions is going to be stout. Defending 28-6A champion O’Connor ranks as one of the top playoff contenders, while Brandeis, Brennan, Warren and Jay are getting early nods as well. Stevens hopes to be in that group.

“It’s all mentality,” said Hernandez, whose Falcons scrimmage Southwest and open the season against Boerne Champion before beginning district play against Brandeis. “It started with offseason and setting the expectations of how important it is to be ready on a daily basis. Every practice is important. The main thing whether you win or lose, you can’t be complacent. Every team in this district is very capable of beating each other. It’s going to be a challenge, but I think it’s going to be a welcomed challenge for us.

“It’s still a work in progress, but we’re closing the gap. I am excited about the product we’re putting out there.”

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