Saturday, July 21, 2018
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sharyland-pionerThe grind of summer football practice can be difficult and draining, but spend a few minutes at Pioneer High School and they’re having fun.


That’s the culture Pioneer Head Coach Jason Wheeler is creating for his team, who made program history last season by winning a share of the District 31-5A championship and qualifying for the playoffs for the first time.


With a new football season officially underway, Wheeler, 2016’s 31-5A Co-Coach of the Year, says he isn’t worried about a district championship or winning a playoff game just yet, he just wants to see the his new group with new chemistry improve weekly.


“We just have to improve each week, be the best team we can be, and I want us to have fun on game day,” Wheeler said. “That’s my philosophy, we’re going to grind during the week, but the only way to really have fun on game day is to be prepared, put the work in and to have fun.”


“We’re excited; we’re coming off the best year in our program’s history, but just like we talk about – that was last year,” Wheeler said. “Everybody is 0-0 this year; every team in the state of Texas is excited. We’re no longer the new kids on the block, people know that we’re coming to play football, that we have a pretty good program. We have a little bit of a bullseye but I feel that’s going to bring the best out of us.”


In their third year of existence, the Diamondbacks finished 8-3 overall with a 7-1 district record last season, only dropping one district game to fellow 31-5A co-champion Laredo Nixon. Pioneer lost its Bi-District playoff game 45-28 at the hands of the Edcouch-Elsa Yellow Jackets.


Senior running back Logan Harris said he knows the team will have a challenge on their hands and a target on their backs in 2017 after winning a share of last year’s district title.


“It’s created momentum; we know what it takes now so we’ll just work a little harder and we know there’s a target on our back, so it pushes us,” Harris said.


The Diamondbacks have six returning starters on offense, including junior and third-year starting quarterback Jacob Rosales. The dual-threat quarterback earned two First Team All-District honors a season ago, one for his offensive play (2,540 total yards, 32 TDs) and the other for his special team’s role as Pioneer’s punter.


Also returning are key contributors in slot back Will Proctor, receiver Enrique Hurtado, and running backs Christian Rivera and Michael Benavides, who with Harris, combine to give the Diamondbacks a stable of capable ball carriers.


“We like to play tough, play fast and with a lot of tempo,” Harris said. “7-on-7 helped us a lot with confidence and I’m really confident in the offensive line. Once we put all the pieces together, I think we’ll be a really good offense.”


On the defensive side of the ball, senior linebacker Angel Chapa and senior safety Tyler Bulthuis, each named First Team All-District last year, return to provide the Pioneer defense with leadership and playmaking ability. Chapa totaled 135 tackles and three sacks while Bulthuis intercepted three passes in 2016. As a unit, the Diamondback defense finished +23 in the turnover category.


Although Pioneer proved they can play with the Valley’s best a year ago, last season is in the rearview mirror and the Diamondbacks are only looking forward. Bulthuis, a defensive team captain, said Pioneer is ready to take the next step.


“Last year is last year,” Bulthuis said. “We were co-district champions and we’re just trying to build off of that. We’re gold ball chasing again, and we want that playoff win. We’re going to get that playoff win.”


Tonight, the Diamondbacks begin the preseason with a scrimmage against the same team that eliminated them from the playoffs a year ago – Edcouch-Elsa. After the lone scrimmage, the Diamondbacks will open the regular season with a non-district matchup with the McAllen Memorial Mustangs, the District 30-6A favorite, on Sep. 1.


“We have a good challenge this week against Edcouch before we play Memorial next week,” Wheeler said. “We’ve got the confidence now, but we just got to put the work in during the week.”


The scrimmage between the Diamondbacks and Edcouch-Elsa Yellow Jackets is set for 7:30 p.m. at Richard Thompson Stadium.


The Pioneer squad is ready to roll and get back under the Friday night lights. After competing against each other in spring ball and summer practice, Bulthuis said the Diamondbacks are ready to finally face off with another team.


“I’m extremely ready and I know all of us are extremely ready,” he said. “During spring ball and practice we’ve been hitting each other, now it’s finally time to hit another team.”