By BILL PETERSON
Editor at Large
The 2007 football season added up to a mixed blessing for the San Marcos Rattlers.
Yes, they made the playoffs for the ninth straight season, and for the tenth year in the last 11. But, yes, they also registered their first losing season in 12 years with a 5-6 record.
Now, Head Coach Steve Van Nest brings back an inexperienced team trying to extend the playoff streak and start a new winning streak while competing in a very challenging District 27-4A.
But it’s always been the San Marcos approach to do it the hard way, seeking out strong opponents and working towards the playoffs. So, the new challenge is just a continuation of the old for the Rattlers.
“We’ve always taken on good competition,” Van Nest said. “We haven’t beaten them all, but we’re not afraid to play anybody.”
Among the teams that beat San Marcos last year were Kerrville Tivy, which won a Class 4A playoff game before losing in the second round to eventual state champion Lake Travis. The Rattlers also lost in the pre-district portion of their schedule to Pflugerville, which lost the Class 5A Division II championship game to Katy. San Marcos lost its first-round playoff game to San Antonio Madison, which lasted to the semifinal round in Class 5A Division II.
This year, Van Nest has set up the Rattlers to open at frequent statewide contender Waco High, which advanced to the Class 4A Division II championship game in 2006 before bowing out of last year’s playoffs with a stunning 37-34 overtime loss to Ennis in the first round. Waco is ranked 25th statewide in this year’s edition of Dave Campbell’s Texas Football.
The Rattlers return only four starters on offense and three on defense, prompting Van Nest to run spring practice for the first time this year. Spring practice allows teams to run 20 days of two-a-days, but it costs a week of practice and one scrimmage in the fall.
The deal is worth it for Van Nest, who is moving Aaron Canady from running back to quarterback. Canady needed the extra work in the spring to master the slight-of-hand techniques involved in the Rattlers’ deceptive Slot-T running game.
“We pretty much picked up where we left off in the spring,” said Van Nest after the Rattlers put in their first week of fall practice. “We’ve got pretty good kids. They work hard and they want to be good. We’re trying to get better in a hurry.”
The fullback, Joekkava Yzaguirre, will be another key performer in the San Marcos running attack after carrying last year for 425 yards. Running backs Scooter Walker and Michael Wilburn also logged carries last year. They’ll run behind an offensive line anchored by Jacob Rodriguez, who goes 6-foot-3 and 300 pounds.
Defensively, the Rattlers will be young, with up to eight underclassmen starting. Van Nest said the defensive line could average less than 200 pounds across, with defensive end Luis Salazar as the only returning starter. Linebacker Blake Bagley is 6-4, 245 pounds, back for his junior season. Canady will play cornerback, joined by Marquese McKinney, who made 49 tackles last season.
“We’re going to be pretty fast,” Van Nest said. “That’s what we’ve got.”
They’ve also got a grueling schedule, largely because of their new district alignment. Like Hays two years ago, San Marcos could discover that the move from a Class 5A district in Austin to a Class 4A district on the corridor is an upgrade in competition.
Along with San Marcos in the new District 27-4A are Tivy, Schertz Clemens, Cibolo Steele, New Braunfels Canyon, Seguin, Boerne Champion and Alamo Heights. Gone are the days when San Marcos could view the district schedule in August and mark up wins against struggling programs like Anderson, Akins and Bastrop.
Steele, Clemens, Tivy, Alamo Heights and San Marcos all have won playoff games in the last two years. Alamo Heights is two years removed from a state championship and Clemens is two years removed from a state semifinal run.
Even with the new University Interscholastic League (UIL) arrangement putting four teams from each Class 4A district into the playoffs, it’s going to be tough making the playoffs out of this district. The good news, of course, is that once one of these teams is in the playoffs, it’s already been playing playoff competition for more than a month.
“We’re not going to have any of those nights when people stayed home because they thought we were going to have an easy game,” Van Nest said. “It’s going to be a challenge every week.”
With another playoff appearance last year, the Rattlers continued a run of success that delivered them from decades of frustration. For the 30 years between 1967 and Bruce Bush’s arrival as head coach in 1997, the Rattlers made no playoff appearances and managed only one winning season from 1976 through 1996.
But Bush’s Slot-T changed everything, and Van Nest has maintained the playoff streak since being promoted from Bush’s staff in 2005. The challenge now is to keep it up.