Dublin Coach Bob Cervetto suggested that I sit down and visit with high school senior Abel Aguilar, but he did not tell me why. Today, I learned the answer to that question, and I have to tell you that I had one of the most interesting conversations that I have ever had with a high school student. Of course, I love dedicated football players and more than that, I love intelligence in young people. I found both (in spades!) in Dublin’s Abel Aguilar.
He didn’t have me at “Hello,” but when he used the word bittersweet by the tenth word out of his mouth, I had to smile, knowing that here was a young man worth a long conversation so I settled a little deeper into my hard high school library chair and asked him to tell me what it was that he thought Coach Cervetto wanted him to tell me.
Whether we hit on the right topic or not, I have no idea, but I do know that Abel Aguilar opened his mouth and simply bubbled over with enthusiasm for his years as a Dublin Lion and the lessons he learned there.
“Coach came in here preaching to us about buying into the program and hard work, but we had never experienced any success in football and didn’t know what he was talking about. When he got here, he was totally enthusiastic and I thought, ‘Yeah, he’ll be here two years, we’ll lose, and he’ll be gone.’”
“My first year of high school both the JV and the varsity went 1-9, and I thought that Coach Cervetto had come here with all of that hype and nothing had happened because I expected it to happen right away. I didn’t realize that he was right…that it was a process, a marathon, not a sprint.
“My sophomore year, Coach put me on special teams on the varsity, and I didn’t do much. I knew that I was stronger physically, and I was encouraged by that, but I was discouraged by what I did on the field. We went 2-8 that year, which was more than what we had done the year before so that was a bright spot.”
Now stay with me here. In two football seasons, Abel has won three games, and he was calling it a bright spot!
“Then it was my junior year, and I became the starting receiver. By district, I was replaced by a 6’3” freshman, who deserved the spot. I’ve always thought of myself a team player, and I knew he deserved it so I didn’t complain. We went 4-6 that year, and I was really encouraged because that was double what we had done the year before.
Our last game was against Breckenridge, and they were the big dogs of the district. They were really whipping us at the end of the first half. The second half is what Coach always refers back to; we scored 26 unanswered points in that half.
We missed the playoffs, but that was our turning point for our program because we saw that we could hang with the Brecks of the world. Plus we had been tied with Eastland 6-6 at halftime of that game, and they were rated in the top 10, and we finally realized that we could actually play with teams like that. We figured out that we no longer had to roll over; we could play with anyone.”
And then a light went off in Abel’s head, but it actually took a trip to the town of Cisco for that to happen.
“After football season my junior year, Brady [Dublin’s quarterback] and I went to a softball game in Cisco, and I saw their weight room. It was 6:30 or 7:00 at night, and the room was still full at that time of day, and that was the first time I really understood that there were teams that worked that late.
“Suddenly I realized that all of those boys had a state championship ring on their finger, and there they were still working. I also realized that I had never worked over an hour at a time in my life. That is when I really committed myself to the weight room.”
And then Abel Aguilar grinned at me.
“Coach Cervetto reminded me that he had been telling me the same thing all along and that he hated that it took Cisco to finally make me understand what he had been trying to teach me…
“I had always just thought that the success that teams like Cisco have was reserved for just a few,” he explained to me. “I didn’t realize that it is all about pure work, and it was at that moment that I understood that I needed to be doing the same thing that Cisco was doing.
“When everyone saw me working, they thought, ‘Abel? What’s he doing?’
“I’ve always been competitive, and if someone was slacking I would try to outdo him and hope his competitive nature would come out. That began to pay off my senior year because lots more players began to work, and it wasn’t just because of me. Coach had been pushing us for so long, but he had always said that teammate to teammate would be bigger than coach to player, and I guess it was as more of us started working harder.
“Dirk Devries was our work horse my junior year. He was a senior, all state, our stud, played in a few all star games, and a receiver. The question was who would fill his shoes our senior year? None of us knew, and no one really thought that anyone COULD fill his shoes.
“Then, it was summer and 7 on 7, and Brady and I suddenly were tearing everyone else up. He knew exactly where I would be, and I knew where he needed me to be. We just clicked. At the end of practice, our coach said, “‘Man, is Abel going to be the guy this year?’”
Apparently that dynamic duo continued to wow the others all the way to the 7 on 7 state championship.
“I can still remember Brady and I were in the hotel wondering how it was that we had made it to the state championship without Dirk, and we began to understand that maybe we could actually do this. We were still trying to get over the mental hump of losing against those schools with the big reputations.”
And then it was football season once again and Abel’s senior year.
“At the beginning of two-a-days, I started at outside receiver, and everything we did was leading up to beating Hico. Every workout we had to ask ourselves if we were working harder than Hico. When we finally played them, it was a very close game and with about four minutes left, it was neck and neck. Coach called a slant 9, and I caught the ball. I was able to jump into the end zone and with that touchdown, I knew we could do it.
“After that win, I remember Coach saying that this was a big fish but that there were bigger fish for us to catch. For all of these years, I had thought of myself as a basketball player, not a football player. Suddenly, I had three games in a row with 100 receiving yards, and I finally knew that maybe I COULD play football.
“Our whole attitude in the locker room began to change as we began to win district games. The one game that was a huge milestone was Jarrell, who was 7-1. After that win, we knew that we could play with anyone. We had ended a 10-year playoff drought.”
The Dublin Lions went on to the second round of the playoffs before falling to Newton, who went on to be the state runner up. Coach Bob Cervetto and his Lions had turned around one of the weakest programs in the state of Texas.
“Coach always talks about the seniors who were here when I was a freshman and what a wonderful thing they did to pave the road for us. They were such good athletes, and they laid the foundation for the program we have today. Every group of seniors that came before us laid the foundation for what we did this year. We owe them so much.”
Abel went on to win first team all-district honors at the wide receiver and defensive back positions.
And now Abel Aguilar is back on the court, playing the sport that used to be his favorite, the sport he still loves, the sport that now ranks right up there with football. But, I just had to ask if all that time in the weight room had destroyed his game. After all, we’ve all heard that before, haven’t we?
“The weight room affects every sport positively, and it certainly hasn’t hurt my basketball. In fact, being stronger just gives me a better shot. It has given me better body control, and I can shoot deeper because I am stronger. In fact, if I am on the three-point line, I can now step farther back and still sink it.”
And then Abel Aguilar grinned one last time, “I do still love basketball, but football is right up there with it now because I now know that I can be good at it as well. The one thing I have learned through my high school career is that we should never wait until it is almost over to really put out the work. Now that I think of it, if I had worked as hard my freshman year as I did my senior year, I can’t even imagine how much better I could have been…”
And isn’t that the way it always is…with all of us?