Refugio presents a strong front (w/videos)
Video: JR Castellano
Video: Jonathan Cantu
Class 2A, Division II State Final
WHAT: Cisco Loboes (15-0) vs. Refugio Bobcats (14-1)
WHEN: 8 p.m., AT&T Stadium, Arlington
TICKETS: Go to AdvoSports.com and click on the link in this story to buy tickets online
TV: Fox Sports Southwest or Fox Sports Southwest Plus
REFUGIO - Refugio assistant Drew Cox has been coaching for three decades, but he knew this season would be his biggest challenge.
The Bobcats returned only one starter on the offensive line, and the top prospects included two freshmen and two sophomores.
"In 30 years, I've never coached an offensive line with this many inexperienced kids," Cox said. "It's been a first for me. It's been a different thing for me, too, but I'm really proud of those six kids who really start for me."
The offensive line may have come into the season as a question mark, but it goes into Thursday's Class 2A, Division II state final against Cisco at AT&T Stadium in Arlington as a unit that has helped Refugio average more than 583 yards of offense per game.
"At the beginning of the season, it was kind of iffy because we had three inexperienced varsity players," said junior center J.R. Castellano, the lone returning starter. "I knew they would be able to pull it out because I saw them in junior high and knew their ability. Around the Lago Vista game, they showed me what they had."
Cox didn't take baby steps with guards Jonathan Cantu, a senior; Nick Villarreal and Christian Mascorro, both sophomores; and freshmen tackles Trace Mascorro and Kobie Herring.
"We threw a lot at them in two-a-days and just expected them to pick it up," Cox said. "It was slow. Those two freshmen went from junior high where they ran about six plays to where we threw the whole playbook at them, and it took a while to adjust and figure that stuff out. That's ignoring technique and everything else that's just learning what to do on a play."
The line got an early test when Edna came out in a different front than the line had prepared for during the week.
"It's mostly experience," said Castellano, a first-team all-state selection. "You never know what you're going to get, but once you go along you start picking it up."
The line continued to progress throughout the season, which allowed the Bobcats to expand their offensive playbook.
"The biggest thing was getting along with the whole O-line," Cantu said. "To figure out how we worked together. We all can't go different ways and trip over each other's feet. We all figured out how we blocked and figured out our footwork, and that's what made us good today."
What has impressed Cox is the improvement has continued against tougher competition during the playoffs.
"The hardest part with those kids who haven't played varsity offensive line is the speed of the game," he said. "It's crazy. When they've got juniors and seniors they're playing against, it's a way different speed. Then you get to the Rogerses, East Bernards and Waskoms of the world - my gosh, the speed is just crazy. But they've adapted and handled it really well."
Cox is already looking forward to having all his linemen but Cantu back for next season.
But he's most anxious to see how they perform on the big stage against Cisco.
"I'm really proud from two-a-days," Cantu said. "I just looked at the line and knew we had talent. You could just tell we had talent. It was hard to predict. Each game, we started getting better and better. We're just getting better each game."