Calhoun's defensive line withstands the tide of blockers
PORT LAVACA - Another football practice was over and the Sandcrabs jogged off the field.
The sun was minutes away from setting, but the anchors of the defense were standing around on the practice field picking on each other.
Albert Gonzalez, Jonathan Chavana and James Mendez rag on each other a lot. But, it's quickly apparent that the teasing is their way of bonding. Let someone else call the 302-pound Mendez "Flower," and it won't go over well with Gonzalez and Chavana.
The three defensive linemen are the anonymous faces in the Calhoun defense, and they have been responsible for stopping the tide of running backs and quarterbacks throughout this season.
Others may rack up the tackles, the interceptions, the headlines. But just about every associated with the Calhoun football program knows the three seniors have played a big roll forcing double-teams, occupying space and doing the things that don't show up in Saturday morning's box scores.
Gonzalez and Mendez are defensive tackles, while the 5-foot-3-inch Chavana is the nose guard, and a roadblock few centers want to see lined up directly across from them.
"We play together as a team and everyone is going 100 percent on every play," Gonzalez said. "We pick each other up and encourage each other."
Teams that play Calhoun have marveled - or lamented, depending on one's perspective - at the squad's physicality. When asked their definition of physicality, all three gave different answers. However, it may be an indicator into their collective strength as a unit.
Said Gonzalez: "just playing until the whistle blows and giving it your all every play."
Chavana's definition of physicality was: "laying everything down on the line."
Mendez added it's "doing everything you can on that play to give your team the best opportunity to win."
Gonzalez and Mendez are returning starters. However, the former was moved from nose guard to defensive tackle this year. Chavana was plugged in at nose guard.
"Everyone treats each other like family," Chavana said. "When someone is down we pick each other up. We don't point someone out. We just tell them we'll get them next time."
"Next time" has not come around too frequently for the Calhoun defense this fall.
Opponents are averaging 14.7 points per game against the Sandcrabs. Through five district games, Calallen was shut out in the regular season for the first time in 27 years, while Gregory-Portland and Beeville scored touchdowns in the fourth quarter - well after the outcome had been decided.
Gonzalez has 49 tackles, Mendez has added another 39 tackles, while Chavana has 37 tackles and two sacks.
Such statistics may not overwhelm anyone, but that is by design. Head coach Richard Whitaker said the three players do exactly what is asked of them, which is to occupy space, force double teams and allow plays to flow to the Sandcrabs' four linebackers.
Thursday night, the Sandcrabs (8-0, 5-0) play at Victoria East (3-5, 2-2) with a chance to complete its second straight season with an unblemished regular season record.
In the wild, a sand crab doesn't live longer than two or three years. A Calhoun win Thursday, means its regular season win streak would stretch into its 25th month. The last time the Sandcrabs lost a regular season game was Oct. 8, 2010 - to Victoria East, at Memorial Stadium.
"It's a lot of fun," Mendez said. "Like coach Whitaker has said, when we were in eighth grade and seventh grade, we never really won. It's really good to start our season like this."
Gonzalez recalls losing to Gregory-Portland by 50 points when he was on the freshmen team. Mendez said his middle school teams were horrible. He chuckled when recalling his middle school B team beat Crain when he was in eighth grade.
Things certainly have changed, since those frequent trips to the woodshed. Calhoun is usually on the giving end of one-sided contests. A year ago, the Sandcrabs beat Victoria East 53-7 in Port Lavaca.
"For one thing, we can't count them out, because they are a good team," Chavana said. "They have been good every year we've played them. We hope to pull out a victory and make the season perfect."