By Pat Turner
Juan Morales has built up fond memories during his 25 years in coaching.
Whether Morales was an assistant at Wrenn Middle School, Kennedy, Poteet, Seguin, Jay and Brennan or as a first-time head coach at Highlands, every stop has brought highlights to last a lifetime.
Accomplishments like helping Brennan to the Class 5A Division I finals (2013) and back-to-back playoff appearances at Highlands stand out, but mostly it’s been the relationships with coaches and players that keeps Morales passionate about coaching.
Now, Morales is looking to do something special at Holmes. The first season was rough as the Huskies struggled through a 2-8 season. The optimistic coach believes progress is taking place.
“I saw strides last year,” Morales said. “We had to work through some pre-mindsets but being able to see them from the beginning to the end. We wanted to make sure we weren’t going too fast and have the wheels fall off. For them to understand the game was the first thing. We brought that up at Highlands and brought it up here.
“If they understand the game, they’re going to be much more prepared to face a tough opponent. Other teams may be faster and bigger, but if they understand what we’re trying to get done, then they have a better understanding of how to overcome that.”
Morales went through a similar situation at Highlands. The Owls had gone through tough times, including an 0-10 disappointment the year before he arrived.
Things came together quickly with two 7-4 finishes that included a District 28-5A co-championship in 2016.
Morales’ approach was simply convincing the players things could change for the better.
Now, he is set on doing the same with at Holmes.
District 28-6A is stout as it has been in the past. Only this year, the 10-team district isn’t divided into zones, meaning there’s one non-district contest and nine league games.
However, Morales believes the Huskies are better prepared for what lies ahead. For one thing, he’s had a full season at Holmes. The players feel more comfortable with his system, which includes ball-control offense and aggressive defense.
Morales saw the difference during their approach throughout the offseason.
“Last year was full of knocks,” Morales said. “We had to work through that, but they’re starting to understand where the coaches are coming from. We’ll have a much more competitive team.
“Strides were made at the sophomore and junior levels. We were really happy when we began spring ball this year. We saw the speed and strength had increased. The players knew what we were talking about and had a better understood the fundamentals.”
The Huskies have a number of players creating that excitement.
Offensively, the running game looks sharp with D’Quarian Haney and Chris Melero. Quarterback Raymond Rios is set to guide the offense. Though there is a heavy emphasis on the ground attack, the Huskies have the ability to succeed through the air with Jake Lee and Daniel Perkins. The protection up front should be improved with J.D. Davis, William McMorris and Ruben Chapa.
Defense could be Holmes’ strength. The line appears secure with end Kriovanni Johnson and tackles Isaiha Robinson and David Chavira. Alan Briseno is back at linebacker and the secondary should have an improved look with Ricky Luna-Paz, Brandon Reynosa, Xavier Gonzales and Marcus De La Garza.
Now, it’s a matter of doing more fine-tuning to prepare for the grind.
Holmes has the opportunity to play every Northside ISD team. The Huskies open their season against Harlan, which is led by former Holmes coach Eddie Salas.
After that, Holmes leaps into District 28-6A with defending champion O’Connor.
“It is what it is,” Morales said. “We understand we have a lot of work to do. We’re going to prepare for each team the same way. I’m looking forward to it. I think it’s going to be fun.”
Morales also believes he’ll be better prepared. He’s learned quite a bit during his four years as a head coach. Of course, the time as an assistant groomed him for the task while working with such mentors as Larry Pullin, John Campbell and Bobby Jack Goforth (Jay), Stephen Basore Brennan) and Mark Smith (Seguin).
“There’s a lot of things you haven’t experienced as a head coach when you’re an assistant,” Morales said. “You learn a lot. I’ve tried to make sure we did everything right. If you’re doing everything right for the kids, it’s going to be a positive experience.
“I’ve picked up a lot of great things from all of the head coaches I worked with through the years. In coach Goforth, I saw someone who was sensitive and understood where the kids were coming from. Coach Campbell was very structured. I appreciated coach Basar’s enthusiasm. With coach Smith I never met a man so organized. He had a year planned out to the minute.”
Through it all Morales expects to enjoy the ride. After all, coaching is the profession he cherishes.
Morales learned that right after graduating from UTSA. Sporting a talent for science and math, he started out as a lab technician but was also serving as a volunteer coach at his high school alma mater. After a year-and-a-half on the job decided to exchange test tubes for creating offensive and defensive schemes. He hasn’t regretted it one bit.
“I’ve loved it all,” Morales said. “In some ways, coaching is like science. You’re always looking for ways to improve by creating motivation and enthusiasm, so they can do this and that day by day, grind by grind.”