The Calexico High School football team goes through some blocking drills during practice on Ward Field in Calexico on Tuesday, Aug. 3. The Bulldogs open the 2021 season hosting Palo Verde Valley High of Blythe at 7 p.m. Aug. 20. | CAMILO GARCIA JR. PHOTO
CALEXICO — Momentum can carry a football team to victory. However, if momentum has swung the opposite way, it can be a long night for the team on the wrong end.
More times than not in recent years, the Calexico High School football team has been on the wrong side of the momentum pendulum. In the Bulldogs’ COVID-shortened 2020 season (played in the spring of 2021), they went 1-4 and failed to score a point in any of the four losses.
However, in their lone victory over Southwest High of El Centro, momentum was on the Bulldogs’ side and they were able to ride that to a 19-13 win.
“I feel we are light years ahead of where we were when we got going last season,” said Fernando Lozano, Calexico’s second-year head coach. “We have been really focused on the mental aspect of the game during this training camp.”
The Bulldogs had less than two weeks of practice before being thrown into the fire with an Imperial Valley League contest at four-time defending league champion Central Union High last season. It was that game where Calexico lost a player that is back and competing for the starting quarterback job this season.
Senior Abram Zazueta broke his collar bone against the Spartans last season and missed the final four games. Back and healthy, the 5-foot-10, 180-pound Zazueta is vying for the starting job along with last year’s starter, junior David Esquer.
“He (Zazueta) came back from the injury and we gave him some opportunities in the summer, so now there’s a battle for the quarterback spot,” Lozano said. “As soon as we made that move, the competitiveness among everyone really picked up at practice.”
Turnovers were a problem for the Bulldogs last season, whether it was an interception ending a drive or an untimely fumble that would kill momentum for Calexico.
“We’re going to run a little more spread formation this year and I’d like to throw the ball more than we did last season,” Lozano said. “Obviously, the game will dictate what we do, but I’d love to be somewhere around 60-40, run to pass.”
When the Bulldogs are running the ball, expect to see senior Julian De Leon get the bulk of the carries. As a junior, De Leon was named second-team All-Imperial Valley League and the 5-foot-11, 185-pounder is just as comfortable running over a defender as he is running around him.
“I just want to go out there and win,” said the 17-year-old De Leon, who is in his third year on the Bulldogs’ varsity roster. “We have some really good size this year on the line and our linebackers are all big and fast.”
Junior Andres Ramirez and sophomore Andrew Rivera are expected to be the leading receivers for Calexico as Lozano hopes to spread teams out more this season.
Defensively, the strength for the Bulldogs will be the linebacking corp of De Leon, Zazueta, junior David Rivera and senior Francisco Arreola. The 6-foot, 175-pound Arreola had an interception return for a touchdown to seal the victory against Southwest last season.
“We want to use those linebackers and take advantage of their athletic ability,” Lozano said. “Definitely the strength of our team are those linebackers.”
The Bulldogs open the season with a nonleague matchup against Palo Verde Valley High of Blythe at 7 p.m. Aug. 20 at Ward Field on the Calexico High campus. They will follow that with another home contest at 7 p.m. Aug. 27, hosting Castle Park High of Chula Vista in a nonleague game.
Calexico will open IVL play at 7 p.m. Oct. 1, hosting defending champion Central. The final game of the season is the Battle for the Border rivalry game against Vincent Memorial Catholic, scheduled for 7 p.m. Oct. 29 at Ward Field.