COUNTDOWN TO KICKOFF 2021: Balmorhea filling gaps with plenty of new faces

After coming oh-so-close to winning a state title in two previous tries, the third time proved to be the charm for the Balmorhea football team as it captured the 2020 Class 1A Division II state championship for the first title in program history.

The question that the Bears look to answer entering the 2021 campaign is:

How do they follow that up?

This season’s squad is vastly different in terms of experience, fielding just two seniors compared to 12 last season.

Head coach Vance Jones emphasized that the younger players will need to be able to fill those shoes in order to make another state title run a reality.

“We’ve got a lot of young guys this year so it’s really important that they learn and get better at understanding what we’re doing,” he said.

Jones has a plan for that and is confident that the team will be up to the challenge to make another deep playoff run.

“When you graduate 12 seniors, everyone thinks that you’re done,” Jones said. “But we have a very good younger bunch of guys and they got a lot of experience last year and they’re ready to step up.”

The Balmorhea Bears run a play during practice Tuesday at Bear Stadium in Balmorhea. (Tony Venegas|Odessa American)

Jones added that the point of emphasis would be on defense as the team replaces all six starters from that side of the ball.

The Bears get tested early with games against Rankin and Van Horn to open the season and Jones sees that as an opportunity to get the details worked out.

“If we get that experience early, I think will be in pretty good shape by the end of district,” he said.

There are fewer questions on the offensive side of the ball where the two seniors — quarterback Andrew Laramore and guard Jason Rodriguez — look to make the biggest impact.

Laramore said that the offense would be the team’s greatest strength to start the season, adding that he understands just what the upperclassmen need to embrace.

“I feel like that we’re filling in that leadership role to try and help these younger players develop,” Laramore said. “That’s going to help us be successful this year.”

Rodriguez added that he’s taking one lesson that he learned from the previous senior class to heart.

The Balmorhea Bears go thorugh drills during practice Tuesday at Bear Stadium in Balmorhea. (Tony Venegas|Odessa American)

“I learned a lot about their hard work and how hard they pushed themselves,” he said. “Some games where we would be down, they never gave up.

“There was never a doubt that we would win those games and I knew that they were going to bring it home every time.”

Aside from the two seniors, the Bears will lean on junior running back Tomas Contreras. Contreras broke out with 309 yards rushing and four touchdowns in the state championship game against Richland Springs.

He’ll be a go-to playmaker but recognizes that everyone has to mesh together in order to reach the top once again.

“Just keep working hard and play as a team,” Contreras said. “If you do that, you can accomplish anything.”

The goal of winning another state title remains the same but Laramore acknowledged that the 2021 season presents a different challenge and that the Bears can’t take anything for granted.

“We don’t need to be overconfident,” he said. “We were really senior-heavy last year and we lost a lot of players. It’s going to be a tougher road this year. We just want to play to the best of our abilities.”

Jones is confident in those abilities, adding that he feels that the offense can be even better than last year’s unit.

He hopes that can play a role in getting a chance to play for a state title — this time at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. The Bears were scheduled to play there before COVID-19 forced the postponement of the game that was eventually played in San Angelo.

“I feel like with a little luck and if we stay healthy, we’ll be right back in the hunt again like at the end of the year.”





>> Head coach: R. Vance Jones.

>> Coach’s overall record: 276-57

>> Coach’s record at school: 96-20.

>> Assistant coaches, duties: Abel Garcia, defensive coordinator; Richard Villanueva, line coach.



>> 2020 overall record: 12-1.

>> 2020 district record: 3-0 (First, District 1-5A Division II).

>> Last district title: 2020.

>> Last playoff appearance: 2020 (Class 1A Division II state champion; def. Loraine, 68-0; def. Jayton, 90-46; def. Motley County, 36-30; def. Groom, 44-36; def. Richland Springs, 74-38).

>> Stadium name: Bear Stadium.

>> Base offense: Unbalanced Wing-I.

>> Base defense: 3-2-1.



>> Returning lettermen: 13.

>> Returning starters: 3 (3 offense, 0 defense).

>> Key returners: Wayne Witcher, Jr., Center; Alex Mata, Soph., FB; Landon Lopez, Soph., SE; Aidaen Mata, Jr., RB.

>> Key newcomers: Austin Holley, Jr. NB; Elijah Jefferson, Soph., RB; Adrian Mata, Soph., DE; Aleks Dominguez, Soph., SF; Ethan Villanueva, Soph, QB; Isiah Gallegos, Soph., Center.