Tuesday, Aug 7 at 10:10 AM
Tempered by the adversity they face on and off the football field, the Memorial Minutemen are nothing if not resilient.
While victories have been few and far between for Memorial, which has two of the longest losing streaks in state history, the Minutemen look forward to every season with renewed hope.
And so it was Monday morning when Memorial started preseason workouts under first-year head coach Alex Guerra, a 1992 Highlands graduate who was an assistant at Royse City in northeast Texas the previous two seasons.
Fifty-five players, the total number of kids in the program, reported for practice.
"Although it's hot and it's tough, I'd been looking forward to this day all summer," senior offensive tackle Daniel Valdillez said. "Coach Guerra has a way of motivating us. He coaches us like we're in the military. It's all about discipline. You get tired but you keep going."
Monday was the first day of preseason workouts for University Interscholastic League Class 5A and 4A teams that did not have spring training and for all 3A, 2A and 1A schools. Most private schools also began practicing Monday.
Class 5A and 4A UIL teams that had spring training start workouts next Monday.
The first Friday of the season is Aug. 31. Memorial hosts Pearsall in its opener that night at Mata Memorial Stadium.
Memorial hasn't had winning season since 1994
A high-energy guy, Guerra stayed on his players like a drill sergeant as he paced the field during Monday's 90-minute workout.
"You've got to want it," he yelled. "You've got to work. This is football. It's not supposed to be easy. If it were, everybody would be out here."
Although Memorial hasn't had a winning season since finishing 5-4-1 in 1994 and has gone 29-142 in the ensuing 17 years, counting a victory by forfeit in 2008, the Minutemen relish the opportunity to play football and represent their school and community.
While Memorial kids aren't going to overwhelm opponents with their speed, size and skills, their love for football never has been questioned.
"I love these kids," Guerra said.
The young men who suit up for Memorial look forward to the gleam of the Friday night lights just as much as the players do at such traditional powers as Smithson Valley, Judson, Southlake Carroll and Lake Travis.
"What motivates me a lot is the heart my teammates bring to practice day in and day out, because I know they really want to win," senior wide receiver/strong safety Christopher Aguilar said.
Senior wide receiver/cornerback Dominick Orozco said Guerra and his staff are teaching the Minutemen the basics of how to succeed – on and off the field.
"You have to crawl before you walk," Orozco said. "If you do the little things right, the big things will come later."
Memorial has made playoffs only once
Valdillez is typical of the players at Memorial, which has a predominantly Hispanic enrollment and is in the Edgewood Independent School District, one of the poorest in the state.
Located off Culebra Road, almost directly across the street from St. Mary's University, Memorial has made the football playoffs only once, in 1998, since opening in 1968.
Like most of his senior teammates, Valdillez has worked this summer to help support his family. Juggling his job with getting ready for football workouts has been a challenge, but Valdillez has managed to do both well.
"My dad is a disabled vet and can't work and my mom works as a housekeeper, so I have to work," Valdillez said. "I haven't really quit my job because I want to go back after football season, but right now I'm concentrating on getting ready for football."
Guerra, 38, graduated from Texas A&M-Kingsville in 1999 and was an assistant coach at Bishop, Hebbronville, Rockwall, Corpus Christi Tuloso-Midway and Pittsburg before moving to Royse City.
Guerra was hired at Memorial in January, succeeding Manny Martinez, who coached the Minutemen for three seasons.
"Being from here, I knew the history of the school," Guerra said. "What appeals to me the most about this job is the type of kid who lives in this area. I grew up like a lot of these kids. I grew up in a poor family. Whether it be broken homes or having tough financial times, I know what these kids go through every day.
"I want to coach this type of kid. I told them from day one that I couldn't care less if they never played another down of football, but I wanted them graduating. If I hadn't graduated and moved on, I obviously wouldn't be where I am now. I see a lot of myself in these kids."
Guerra: 'We're just trying to change the culture'
To watch Guerra interact with his players is to see a coach whose influence goes beyond the practice field and fieldhouse.
"People don't realize how loyal these kids are," Guerra said. "When you earn their trust – and I stress earn – they’ll do anything for you, as long as they know you care about them."
Although Memorial has recorded losing seasons in 16 of the past 17 years – the Minutemen finished 5-5 in 1996 – Guerra is undaunted by the challenge he has taken on.
"Our approach as a staff is that we just want to be consistent," Guerra said. "If we make a rule, that's how it's going to be. We want our players to be good students, be on time and be respectful. We're just trying to change the culture. We want to win. We stress that every day.
"But I can't even begin to go into the locker room and talk about winning if I haven't covered the basics. One of the big things I talk to the kids about is how we're going to weather the storm. It's easy to be a front-runner and be excited when we haven't played a game, but what's going to happen when it's halftime and we're down 20? You've got to weather the storm."
And, as Guerra reminds his players at every turn, keep focusing on doing the little things right.