For the first time since 1994, Harlandale High School will kick off a football season with a new head coach when it plays Jay on Sept. 2.
Head coach at Edison the past 10 years, Albert Torres was hired in April to succeed Isaac Martinez, who resigned in March after heading the Harlandale football program for 23 seasons. Martinez is now athletic director of the Harlandale Independent School District.
On the job since May 1, Torres has spent the past two and a half months getting to know his new players and adapting to his new surroundings. A 1992 Edison graduate, Torres had never coached outside of San Antonio ISD before going to Harlandale.
“I’m trying to hit the ground running because I know I’ve got some big shoes to fill,” Torres, 43, said this week. “I’ve always had tremendous respect for the job Coach Martinez and his staff have done over the years.
“I played against Harlandale and coached against Harlandale, so I’m familiar with the tradition and the discipline of the program. They’ve had a lot of consistency over the years. Those are things that have always jumped out at me about Harlandale.”
Torres went 52-51 in his 10 seasons at Edison, leading the Golden Bears to the playoffs three times. He guided Edison’s 2010 team to a district championship, the school’s first since 1993.
Torres inherits a Harlandale team that returns 10 starters, six on offense and four on defense, from a squad that finished 4-6 in Martinez’s last season. The losing season was the Indians’ first since 2011.
Martinez, who also graduated from Edison, went 139-110-2 in 23 seasons at Harlandale, leading the Indians to four district titles and 11 playoff appearances. Martinez’s first postseason victory, in 1999, was Harlandale’s first in the playoffs since 1945.
“Harlandale, to me, whether I was a kid playing against them or coaching against them, they’ve always brought a tradition of doing things right and never giving up,” Torres said. “Their kids always play hard.”
Torres expressed gratitude to Martinez and former HISD athletic director Rudy De Los Santos for their help as he’s made the transition to his new job.
De Los Santos was Harlandale’s head coach for five seasons (1989-93) before taking the same job at Weslaco High School in 1994. He returned in January 1996 to succeed Sylvester Perez as HISD athletic director, staying on the job until retiring in April.
“As soon as I got the job, Coach Martinez and I both reached out to each other and had some great talks,” Torres said. “I’ve continued to pick his brain, so I’m happy he’s the athletic director. It’s been awesome. I’ve enjoyed the talks I’ve had with Coach Martinez. He’s very perceptive. He’s got a lot of knowledge, not only about football but how to run a program.
“Rudy De Los Santos has been great, too. Both of those guys were open to any questions I may have had when I first got the job. They were ready to help. It’s been really nice to know that they want to continue to help me to make sure Harlandale continues to go in the right direction.”
Harlandale has traditionally supported its athletic teams well, but Friday nights during football season are special, especially at home games. That spirit hasn’t been lost on Torres through the years.
“The community spirit is another thing that’s always jumped out at me about Harlandale,” he said. “I can remember playing Harlandale as a kid and seeing the number of people in the stands and the band playing. All that went together with the Friday night lights. It’s kind of like a small-town feel when you go to Harlandale games.
“A lot of the community is very family oriented. They always talk about family in the district. Seeing the kids play 7-on-7 this summer, you see all the little brothers wearing Harlandale T-shirts out there. I know they have a lot of pride, not only in the school but the community.”
Edison offensive coordinator Ruben Gonzales, who coached under Torres for two seasons, talked about the qualities that make his former boss a successful head coach.
“He’s a hard-working guy,” Gonzales said. “He’s there all the time. He’s very visible. He talks to the kids a lot. Another thing about him is that he’s very organized. I always appreciated that. You know your job, your role. That kind of sets him apart.”
Torres said that the Indians’ summer strength and conditioning workouts have gone well.
“We’ve got good numbers and the kids are working hard,” he said.
Harlandale, which did not have spring training, opens preseason workouts Aug. 7.
Torres hired two of his former Edison assistant coaches to join him at Harlandale, Anson Cornwell and Chris Hernandez. Cornwell will be the Indians’ new offensive coordinator, replacing Oscar Cardenas, who retired in June after being on the Harlandale coaching staff since 1984. Hernandez will coach the running backs.
Edward Moreno, a holdover from Martinez’s staff, will remain as defensive coordinator.
A UTSA graduate, Torres started his coaching career at Jefferson in 1998. He coached under Jim Bailey and Brian Clancy for nine years before landing the head-coaching job at Edison in 2007.
“It was a tough decision to leave Edison because I love Edison,” Torres said. “Going to Harlandale was another challenge in my career and I was ready for it.”