Velasquez centered on leading Rattlers’ offensive line
Mark Velasquez’s niece loves to watch Doc McStuffins, a children’s cartoon about a young girl playing pediatrician with her toys on Disney Junior.
The senior spends most of his Saturdays watching with her. But on Fridays, Velasquez is the one who’s animated.
“I just get really hyped,” Velasquez said. “I’m bringing the talk. Because I like to talk a lot. On the field, when someone starts talking, I get my motor going. It brings all the hype.”
This season, Velasquez will be doing a lot more talking. Last week, his coaches made the decision to move him from left guard to center.
The two positions are similar, but do have minor variations. Guards tend to be a tad more mobile and utilize a lot more pull-blocks. Centers typically help out on more double teams and, of course, snap the ball to the quarterback. Chief among the differences, though, is that the center calls the shots.
“The center is kind of the commander of the bunch,” head coach Mark Soto said. “He makes the calls, as far as what the fronts are that they’re going against, if they see any stunts and things like that. So, he’s kind of like the quarterback on the O-line … The main difference is leadership. One is kind of a captain, telling you which way to go and the other one kind of follows.”
Over the offseason, offensive line coach Mark Robledo realized he would need sophomores Easthan Mendez and Fabian Villegas to step up this year to fill some of the line’s gaps. He encouraged them to latch on to some of the older players in the group, including Mark.
“It’s been good to see them develop a camaraderie,” Robledo said. “I had the same conversation with the older guys. It was like ‘Hey guys, we’ve got two younger guys that we need to develop’ … They’ve worked out all spring together. Of all the linemen we had, the two sophomores were the only ones that had perfect attendance during our summer training sessions. So, it’s been really good to see them develop.”
Once he saw the progress Mendez and Villegas made, Robledo knew they both deserved a shot at starting jobs. And as he saw Velasquez become more of a leader, he knew that moving him to center would be the best fit for the whole unit.
Velasquez made the transition selflessly.
“As long as I get to block someone, make them look dumb,” Velasquez said. “It’s going to be kind of different. But I like it so far.”
“I think he’s handled it great,” Soto said. “And it’s helped his psyche because he does know a lot about the offense line.”
The team is banking a lot on Velasquez’s football savvy that he picked up over the course of last season. As a junior, he started at left guard on an offensive line that opened up 4,930 total yards and 64 touchdowns in 12 games for the Rattlers’ playmakers last season.
Now, the senior is one of four returning linemen and expected to anchor a group that’ll roll through a number of different combinations throughout each game. He’ll take his first official snap at center against Buda Hays on Friday at 7:30 p.m. at San Marcos Toyota Rattler Stadium.
Velasquez said he’s excited for the atmosphere that gameday brings. It gets him hyped, a familiar feeling that will help while he’s adjusting to a new position with a new unit.
“I’d say we have a little bit more power than we had last year,” Velasquez said. “(We’ve improved on) our adjustments to new calls, the new ways we do things. Just kind of everything overall … So, we should be good.”