HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL: Experience key for Odessa High’s defensive surge

If there was one silver lining for the Odessa High football team to take away from a topsy-turvy 2020 season is that the Bronchos had the chance to play plenty of underclassmen.

Experience matters, especially at the high school level.

Now, led by a strong senior class on the defensive side of the football, the Bronchos are poised to make some noise as they open District 2-6A play against Midland High at 7 p.m. Friday at Grande Communications Stadium in Midland.

Elias Minjarez, Shawn Ruiz, Zeke Garcia, Adrian Estrada, Matthew Ortiz and Mario Valdez are the upperclassmen leaders on defense.

“Other than COVID and not having any district games, the biggest difference this year has been a little more senior experience,” defensive coordinator Ammad Quigley said. “We played a lot of young ones last year, a lot of juniors and sophomores.

“And some of our seniors were players who were just on the varsity for the first time. This year it’s not just about age, but game experience.”

Odessa High is 2-2 on the season, snapping a 13-game losing streak with a shutout against Del Rio in Week 2, before snapping a six-game losing streak against Lubbock Coronado the following week.

The Bronchos know as well that their losses, against Lubbock Monterey on opening night and last week at Wichita Falls Rider, certainly were games that could have been won.

Odessa High was down 20-0 after 10 minutes against the Plainsmen and gave up two big plays against the Raiders to let them back into the contest.

“We lost both those games by a total of nine points and it was self inflicted,” Quigley said of the defeats. “In Monterey, it kind of got away early and in the past they have never been in those places when the ball is rolling and no one would stick their foot out.

“Last year, playing from behind, it is what it is. But this year, our offense can score and the defense is like ‘we have something to protect, now we have a little ownership,’ and it keeps you in the game.”

It truly has been a team effort for the Bronchos to this point.

Each day, the starters face off at practice, making the other side of the football work for its success.

That effort shines under the lights against that week’s opponent.

It also resonates in the eyes of minds of the younger players on the team.

“They are doing a great job,” Quigley said. “You actually have a template that they see what the hard work looks like.

“We as a staff put a lot on them. And, we coach the varsity kids harder, the other kids see that and we have success.”

The Bronchos have had success this year, having forced 11 turnovers (six interceptions, five fumble recoveries), with 5.5 sacks and seven tackles for loss.

Now, with the district gauntlet upon them, the Bronchos look to continue their renaissance with a drive toward a postseason berth for the first time since 2013.

“I think they’ll be fine,” Quigley said of his squad. “They’ll relish it.

“No discredit to Rider, because they played better that night, but I think we were the better team. And 2017, when we were 5-5 and let a couple games get away, would be the last time I think I would say we didn’t have a real weakness on the team.”

>> Follow Lee Scheide on Twitter at @OALeeScheide