Rodriguez: Refugio remains an elite football program


If you are any kind of high school football fan, you are probably aware the Refugio Bobcats are one of the elite programs in the state.

It always amazes me that every year Refugio is in the mix for a state title. More often than not, the Bobcats are the last playoff team standing from South Texas.

Refugio made another run this season but lost to Mart 34-21 in the Class 2A Division I championship on Dec. 20.

Had they won, it would have been the first back-to-back championships in school history. Refugio has won state titles in 1982, 2011, and 2016 and was co-champion in 1970.

But there is a whole lot more to this year’s Refugio football story than another championship game.

Refugio is a small town in deep South Texas situated on Hwy. 77 between Corpus Christi and Victoria. The city was in the path of Hurricane Harvey when the storm struck the state and did so much damage.

Refugio was not spared and suffered considerable damage to homes, businesses and many school facilities.

The football stadium took a direct hit and could not be used until the eighth game on the schedule. That didn’t faze the football team, which went through their district schedule unscathed and only lost to Class 4A powerhouse Geronimo Navarro before the playoffs despite playing the first seven games on the road.

According to one of the Bobcats’ biggest fans, Richard Burrier of Stockdale, the team was one of the biggest reasons the city was able to rebound quickly after the storm.

“The team made it easy for the community to forget all the problems caused by the storm,” he said. “Football is what the fans wait for all year.”

I asked Burrier why the program is so successful.

“The kids just know they are going to win games. They don’t worry about the district schedule. Their goal is to go to state and win championships,” he said.

Burrier, 83, who once lived in Pleasanton, is an honorary coach for the Bobcats, despite being neither a football coach nor from Refugio.

He fell in love with the Bobcats one night in the late 1970s when bad weather made him cancel a fishing trip to the coast.

Instead, Burrier went to a Refugio game after seeing the stadium lights on. 

Since then, he has missed only a handful of football games.

When current coach Jason Herring found out about this super fan driving in from Stockdale for games, he held a brief ceremony and made Burrier an honorary coach.

When  Refugio won in 2016, Burrier was awarded a championship ring like the other coaches. This year, he could be seen roaming the Bobcats sideline at AT&T Stadium during the title game.

Burrier still tries to attend every Refugio game. These days, he is accompanied by his grandson, Darius Love, a 13-year-old who attends school in Stockdale but is an official water boy during all Refugio games.

Another thing that amazed me was when Burrier explained the Bobcats changed quarterbacks this season despite having a returning starter who was the championship game’s Offensive MVP.

Jacobe Avery led Refugio to the state title in 2016 and moved to running back this year to make way for sophomore Jared Kelly.

Kelly threw 43 touchdowns passes during the season as Refugio compiled a 13-1 record heading into the championship game.

I guess when you have the type of talent like they have at Refugio, you can make quarterback changes like that.

On the first play from scrimmage in this year’s title game, Kelly connected with Jamel LaFond for a 66-yard touchdown pass that quickly gave Refugio a 7-0 lead.

They later made it 14-0 on another touchdown pass from Kelly, but it wasn’t to be.

By halftime the Panthers had a 21-14 lead and were virtually unstoppable in the second half.

According to Burrier, Refugio has loads of talent returning, and he has no doubt that they’ll make it back to state in 2018.

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