Posts Tagged With: Harlingen

Bird Bowl XX


When I set this trip up, people told me that to get a complete picture of the Texas high school football scene, I needed to make a trip to the Rio Grande Valley and see a game. Football is football and for the players and coaches, the atmosphere is similar wherever it’s played. There are differences in speed and physicality, some programs are better coached and make fewer mistakes, but whether in Harlingen, Dallas or Reno, Nevada, teenage boys approach the game the same way.  What makes Texas HS football unique is the support it has and its importance to the community. While many Texas towns are passionate about their teams, passion in the Valley is a different thing entirely. Pride is a word often heard around football programs, but it’s hard to define exactly what it means. In Harlingen, this pride while hard to put a finger on is very real. The best way I can describe it is that this game really MATTERED to the 10,000 in the stands as much as it did to the kids on the field.

Early on it looked as though the many who predicted Harlingen’s downfall might be right. Harlingen South came into the game with a lot of intensity, taking a 10-0 lead in the first quarter.  After a 70 yard run by sophomore running back Jaedon Taylor on the first play of the second quarter, the Hawks lead 16-7. A field goal late the second quarter gave the Cards a 17-16 lead at the half.

After playing very well before halftime, the Hawks seemed to lose steam in the second half. The Cardinal defense took control after the break. The Harlingen front dominated the Hawks, never again allowing Taylor to get going and pressuring the Hawk QB. On offense, Brandon Garza threw for two touchdowns on screen passes to receiver Mark Rosales and running back Deon Conde scored on a 56 yard run.  South scored late to make the final score 38-23.

I want to thank Coach Gomez, his players and coaches for letting me hang out with them this week. I set out on this journey in August to highlight programs that successfully teach football and in the process teach character that will serve these kids in all aspects of their lives. The Harlingen Cardinals are another good example of a program that does just that.

Coach Gomez and Linebacker Nathan Prado with the Bird Bowl Trophy

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Bird Bowl Preview

Harlingen Freshmen Game Crowd

I just got back from the sub-varsity games at Boggus Stadium and caught a little taste of the atmosphere that’ll be cranked up tomorrow night. About 1500 Cardinal supporters and maybe another 1000 Harlingen South fans were in the stands, blowing horns, ringing bells and getting more excited about a freshmen game than typical. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever been to a freshmen game that so many cared so much about. I get a strong impression that when these two schools compete at ANYTHING, the importance of the outcome is magnified in Harlingen. The Cardinal freshmen won 29-7,,, at the half the JV for HHS was up 8-7.

There is a buzz around town that this is the year, the first in a long time, when Harlingen South has the edge in the rivalry. Harlingen has won 15 of the 19 contests in this series, but South is coming in with a 7-1 record and many are hoping to see a giant fall. A capacity crowd of 10,400 is expected tomorrow night, I’m pretty sure the game is sold out. I’m looking forward to a very exciting night.

I’ve had to delete several responses to my last post that crossed the line into badmouthing one of the teams. This blog was started to promote the game of high school football and hopefully give some insight into eleven quality programs in Texas. Whether you’re a Cardinal fan or not, I don’t think there’s any question Harlingen has a quality program and is a great example of what high school football can be. The Cardinals win because of great coaching, stability, tradition, work ethic and a fanatical fan base. Nobody has to like them, but not to respect them and what they have accomplished is foolish. There are plenty of message boards for those who want to argue and debate the game, but this isn’t one of them.

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Week Ten: Harlingen Cardinals

Palm Trees in Texas!

The regular season is winding down and this week I’m in the Rio Grande Valley to see the Harlingen Cardinals and the 20th annual Bird Bowl, between the Cardinals and the Hawks of Harlingen South. Whenever I get to a new place, I try to figure out what’s unique about the situation, among the 11 teams I’m visiting. With Harlingen, I knew coming in that the Valley itself is unique within the state’s football picture. In other parts of Texas, the Valley and its football has several strong stereotypes; a largely Hispanic population with teams that rarely advance past the second round when they meet the more athletic teams from “UpTexas” & fanatical fan support. When Harlingen beat Warren High School from San Antonio in the 3rd round last year, they became the first Valley 5A school to advance to the state quarterfinal since 1999. The entire Valley took pride in it and 10,000 fans made the 100 mile trip up to Kingsville to support the Cardinals.

This season has been more challenging for the Cards, losing their first two games and heading into the Bird Bowl with a very uncharacteristic 5-3 record. Many in the Valley believe Friday is the day South will snap the 4 year losing streak to their cross-town rival. South is coming in with a 7-1 record. I’m not here to make predictions, but I really doubt this will be the blowout many seem to be expecting, Harlingen did not start well, but have been playing much better football the past few weeks and seem to be back on track, just as the games are starting to matter. What I do know is that you can often throw out the records leading up to a rivalry game; I’m looking forward to a good battle Friday night.

The other, unexpected and unique thing I’ve learned this week is that 14 of the 16 football coaches at Harlingen are alumni of the school. I wonder if any program in Texas or the entire country could claim such a homegrown staff. Loyalty like this is an amazing thing to see, coaches who, in great number, have decided they don’t just want to coach but carry on the tradition of their alma mater and coach at Harlingen High.

This is not just a strange fact about this program, but a direct reason for its success. Coaching stability is a huge factor in running a successful program and its lack many places in Texas, is a big hurdle programs have to fight. A staff ingrained with all this schools traditions and who see themselves as “Cardinals” as much as professional coaches has got to be a big advantage in promoting the culture of the place.

The only danger to such an insulated staff would be if they hadn’t seen enough of other programs and fall behind in a constantly changing game. As someone who has had the privilege of watching a lot of staffs work this year, I can say that this is not the case. Coach Gomez and his staff have made a point of keeping up with the game and the proof is in the record they’ve compiled over the years. Harlingen is the program they are due to tradition, but also because they work very hard and do a great job preparing their kids. Tradition is great, but good coaching and kids who execute what they’ve been taught is what wins games.

MTXE= Mental Toughness, Extra Effort

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Over 5000 miles into the road trip and I’m finally down in the Rio Grande Valley to see the Harlingen Cardinals. Harlingen got a lot of attention last season for advancing to the fourth round in the 5A. They earned statewide respect and became the center of Valley pride for their success.  The Rio Grande Valley is geographically isolated from the rest of the state and although no valley team has ever won a big school state title, there’s no shortage of interest and support for football in this part of the state. If you watch the local news or read a the Valley Morning Star you see just how important the high school game is here. High school previews were on the front page and led the sportscasts all weekend. You can’t drive down a street in Harlingen without seeing a Cardinal or Hawk on a storefront, a front yard sign or a window decal.

Harlingen High School is the most prominent program in the Valley and from the short look I had at them tonight I can see some of the toughness that got them into that position. They mostly did walkthroughs tonight, didn’t do a lot of banging, but you could see they were very businesslike and serious about the upcoming season.


Another example of the trend of supporting the lower levels that I’ve seen at all the programs I’ve visited. Harlingen takes it a step further than all the rest. All 16 Harlingen coaches work all three levels. The freshmen squad practices in the morning, allowing all the varsity coaches to work with them. I think the most impressive thing I’ve seen the last three weeks is the quality of the underclassmen in Texas. You can’t go to a JV practice in Nevada without seeing kids who are clearly playing for the first time. In Texas you can barely tell the difference between JV and varsity players. Commitment to providing quality coaching to the freshmen, like they have at Harlingen is a big reason for this.

I’ll be back in Harlingen, week ten for the “Bird Bowl” vs. the Harlingen South Hawks. Image

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