Good Sports: Mendota Football

August 16, 2013 2:57:59 PM PDT
It was close to 100 degrees just east of I-5 near Three Rocks. Armed with a sharp pair of pruning shears, and an even sharper sense of humor, members of the Mendota High School football team were harvesting their third seemingly endless row of grapes of the day.

"It's tough but you try not to think about it, you know?" said Senior Linebacker Julio Lainez. "Because if you think about it, it's like, oh that's a lot."

"I'm working with like five guys, five football players," said Senior Defensive End Jesus Quintanar, when asked if the field work helps improve football chemistry. "Yeah, we end up hanging out in practice too."

One group of teenagers was cutting grapes, another handful picking the ripest cantaloupes available, and a third was scooping up almonds in a grove. All of them work, but not because they want to.

"Out here it's like you have to," said Lainez. "To get money, to get whatever you want, it can go to me or my family. Because my family is not ? we don't have a lot of money."

"My mom got hurt at work so I had to step up and pay some bills here and there," said Junior Linebacker Raul Rangel. "[Also] to buy my own clothes and football stuff."

There are no boring days, no laps around the local mall, no summer vacation. But led by their head coach, the Aztecs are building character through hard work that has already paid off. Over the last two years, Mendota is 21-3 with two Central Section titles, a source of pride for the blue collar community.

"The majority of the community here has gone through it, including myself," said Mendota Head Coach Beto Mejia. "Those kids will learn that through the hard work that they can apply it not just in athletics but they can also apply it in education."

Coach Mejia and his staff make earning good grades a priority, using his own story is an example for his players.

"That's an option for them," said Mejia. "If they don't want to go to college, they could end up working in the fields the rest of their lives."

"You think, 'I don't want to work in the fields.' It's really hard," admitted Rangel. "You just try hard in school; get an education and a better job."

In just two weeks' time those hundred degree temperatures will be replaced by hundreds of fans at Aztec Stadium. And with a work ethic unrivaled in the Central Valley, these Aztecs say they've got what it takes to go for a third straight Central Section championship."

"You're tired, and sometimes you can't even feel your legs while you're doing sprints across the fields," said Rangel. "And your team's there. You know that they're there cheering you on, telling you 'Don't give up. Don't give up.'"

Mendota knows they have targets on their backs, but they also have the mental toughness to meet each challenge and overcome it. These Aztecs are warriors.

"They come out here with a mature mentality, knowing that I'm here to represent not just me, my football community, my coaches, the fans, but also my family," said Mejia. "And it's just a reflection on our whole community."

"We're trying to bring Mendota together as a community," said Rangel. "Hopefully football can bring it all together and make it better."

Just don't ask them about their field of dreams. They might not know which one you're talking about.


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