Every once in awhile, Our Lady of the Hills coach Chris Ramirez takes a glance at the Hawks’ old team photos in his office.
The photographs capture sophomore Luke Martinez’s growth over the last few years. Seven years ago, Ramirez inherited the OLH athletic program. Joe Martinez became his assistant coach, and Joe’s 7-year-old son took over as the Hawks’ water boy.
Ramirez finds it funny how Luke seems to get a little bit bigger in each successive team picture.
Luke’s love for Hawks’ football also grew during that time. As a water boy, he dreamed of leaving his own legacy at OLH.
“It was an eye-opener. Coach Ramirez still gives me a hard time about being a water boy,” Luke said, laughing. “But I wanted to play six-man football. I wanted to get coached by my dad and coach Ramirez. I just wanted to be part of this program.”
Well, here’s some good news for Luke: He’s not only a vital contributor for the Hawks this season, but he also has teammates who share his devotion to OLH football. They’re working together to help the Hawks (5-3) collect wins on the gridiron. Last Friday, They earned a 82-60 victory over Temple Holy Trinity, snapping a three-game losing streak. This Friday, they can clinch a playoff berth when they host Victoria Faith.
Ramirez insists he hasn’t done anything too extraordinary this season. He just coaches young men who love playing for OLH, players who are hungry to succeed.
“We have a good group of boys: They are well-raised and they come from good families,” Ramirez said. “They are easy to coach, really respectful. Throughout the season, they have gotten closer and have enjoyed being around each other.
“It’s been really easy to coach them,” Ramirez continued. “I think they are all familiar that we have had success out here at OLH, and I just reinforce the fact that (success) was here before I got here as well. We are just trying to uphold the tradition.”
To accomplish that goal, the Hawks have relied on contributions from both upperclassmen and freshmen. The three seniors — Hunter Taylor, Mason Sirianni and Triston Schubert — have already left their mark at OLH, helping orchestrate a program rebuild. In 2016, the Hawks won only one game. Two years later, the three seniors have the Hawks on the cusp of the playoffs. According to Luke, it’s his peers responsibility to continue elevating the OLH football program once the three seniors graduate.
He believes the future at OLH is bright. But at the moment, he’s preoccupied with helping the team win in the present. He returned from injury last Friday to snag a touchdown pass, bringing his season total to five. His fellow underclassmen have also impressed, too.
Sophomore James Ibarra leads the Hawks with 36 receptions for 739 yards and 18 touchdowns. Evan Houdeshell has started in the secondary as a freshman this season, recording five tackles and recovering an onside kick last Friday against Holy Trinity. And Junior Brian Casillas has anchored the Hawks’ defense with 60 tackles this season.
Those four players have also helped the Hawks navigate through adversity this season. The Hawks opened the season by winning their first four games, but lost Taylor to injury in their 34-20 win on Medina on Sept. 21. The injury forced the underclassmen to mature at an even faster rate.
“It was like getting thrown into the fire,” Ibarra said. “None of us have really studied the offense like Hunter has, and been around for three years straight. It was a big step up for us.”
Other injuries started to pile up, just as the Hawks were about to enter the toughest stretch in their schedule. Luke missed two games with an injury. Casillas got bit by the injury bug, and Schubert is still nursing an injury. As a result, the Hawks stumbled in blowout losses to New Braunfels Christian and Bulverde Bracken.
“The injuries happened at the worst time, when we were going to be playing the meat of the schedule of the teams in our district,” Ramirez said. “Playing tough opponents when we were injury-riddled made it difficult for us. I think what it really did is that we lost our confidence for awhile.
“But we kept preaching about regaining our confidence and getting back to what we have done well,” Ramirez continued. “I think that’s what was key for us, and you could sense it in pregame: These guys were stretching. They were loose — they were looking forward to it. I told them to put those loses behind them.”
The Hawks accomplished that in their win on Friday. Ramirez admits that they still aren’t at 100 percent yet, but they are healthy enough to make a push for the postseason -- Something that Luke has fantasized about when he was just a water boy.
“Over the years, I have seen good teams play and bad teams come,” Luke said. “I think this is possibly the best team to ever come through OLH. I think we have the possibility to do something special this year."