WELLS — Their mascot was once the Leopards, it will now be the Saints.
The colors on the jersey were black and orange, they will now wear green and gold.
While many factors will be different at the next stop, one thing will remain the same — Wells seniors Zane Rodriguez and Enrique Aguilar will still be teammates, each signing to play football for interim coach Travis Titus at Presentation College, in Aberdeen, South Dakota.
Presentation College is an NAIA program, the Saints finishing the 2018 season with a 5-5 record and a 3-4 mark in conference play of the North Star Athletic Association.
Titus has recruited from northeastern Nevada in the past, formerly as the assistant coach of the University of Jamestown, also a member school of the North Star.
“Coach Titus said that he ‘likes to recruit from Nevada, because it doesn’t get looked at a lot and players from here slip through the cracks,’” Rodriguez said.
During the week of spring break, Rodriguez and Aguilar made an official visit to Presentation College the same time as some of their future teammates, Elko senior Luis Garcia and Lowry senior Caleb Sanchez.
Garcia is expected to play on the defensive line, while Sanchez played on the offensive line and at linebacker for the Buckaroos.
“I liked how the school is smaller. It felt like a perfect fit for me. Everyone is closer,” Rodriguez said. “We stayed the night with the team, and the players were pretty cool. I’m excited to see what the next level is all about.”
Rodriguez, who quarterbacked the Leopards since his freshman season, was named the 2016 1A Northern-East Offensive Player of the Year and the 2018 League MVP — missing the majority of his junior year with a torn ACL — will play his secondary position at the collegiate level.
He terrorized opposing defenses, with his arm, his legs and even his hands as a senior — throwing for 2,079 yards with 26 touchdowns and nine interceptions, rushing 60 times for 815 yards (13.6 average) for 14 scores and catching six passes for 180 yards (30 per reception) with two TDs.
Now, Rodriguez is expected to swap roles — focusing on locking offenses down — planning to play in the secondary for Presentation College, likely at safety.
He was also in contact with Eastern Oregon University, in La Grande, Pacific University (Forest Grove, Oregon), Lewis & Clark College (Portland, Oregon) and Willamette University (Salem, Oregon).
Willamette was the lone school that recruited Rodriguez as a quarterback, the rest all wanting his services in the defensive secondary.
“It really didn’t matter to me, playing quarterback or defense. They (Presentation) want me to start off in the secondary,” he said. “You get to be more aggressive on defense. I like hitting rather than being hit, making hits instead of taking them.”
In his senior year, Rodriguez tallied 82 tackles with 50 solo stops and 2.5 sacks.
Rodriguez tallied double-digit tackles in five of nine contests, including a season-best 15 stuffs in a 60-22 win on Oct. 19, 2018, in Carlin, also notching 1-1/2 sacks.
He recovered four fumbles, forced another fumble, picked off two passes and blocked a punt.
On Sept. 7, 2018, 70-52 home loss to Tonopah, Rodriguez returned a pick 15 yards for a touchdown and recovered two fumbles, also scooping up two loose balls in Carlin.
He tallied his final pick in a 62-6 victory win against Owyhee, on Oct. 11, 2018, in Wells.
His blocked punt came on Sept. 28, 2018, in a 78-0 blasting of McDermitt.
He forced a fumble a week later on Oct. 4, 2018, during a 58-32 home win against Independence in a torrential downpour.
“My goals are to be a starter on defense, do well in school and get my degree,” he said.
While in school, Rodriguez plans to major in exercise science — hoping to become an athletic trainer for a college or “intern with Nike for a professional team.”
Aguilar will not necessarily switch sides of the football, but he will likely change positions — moving behind the line — expected to play running back instead of slot receiver.
He was the 2018 Division 1A Northern-East Defensive Player of the Year, but he has some serious offensive game.
Aguilar has proven to be a versatile weapon with the ball in his hands.
He was Rodriguez’s go-to receiver, catching 35 passes for 901 yards with 14 touchdowns as a senior.
On Sept. 14, 2018, on the road at Excel Christian, in Sparks, Aguilar caught five passes for a season-high 154 yards and snagged three of Rodriguez’s career-high seven touchdown throws — including the game-winner in the closing seconds — the Leopards coming from behind for a 78-72 victory in an offensive slugfest.
He also snagged three TDs in Wells’ 50-46 loss in the first round of the playoffs at Virginia City, finishing the game with six catches for 147 yards.
Despite his lack of size — listed at 5-feet-3-inches, 125 pounds — Aguilar is not only tough, he also welcomes contact and dishes out blows of his own.
As a ball carrier, he rushed for 466 yards on 72 totes for a 6.5 average with six TDs — including a touchdown in the Excel Christian game.
Aguilar scored four touchdowns in two ballgames, matching his season-high four scores at Excel Christian with two receiving TDs (two catches for 17 yards) and two rushing scores against Independence (season-high 31 carries, season-best 199 rushing yards).
“They want me to play running back right now. I think I’d rather play there anyway, for the carries. You see the ball more and I see the field better when I carry it. (Coach) Titus came down and put on a running back presentation, so I took part in that,” Aguilar said. “I’m looking forward to the experience of playing in college, the faster-paced ball and taking it to the next level.”
Aguilar said he likes Titus’ “straight-up” approach.
“He lets you know what he likes and he tells you what he wants,” Aguilar said. “He wants you to get vertical — put a move on, hit the hole fast and turn up the field.”
Tough as nails, both sides of the ball — packing and stopping it.
He led the Leopards with 130 tackles (60 solo), recording double-digit stops in all but one of Wells’ nine ballgames.
In the 70-52 loss to Tonopah, he did his part — tallying a season-best 22 stuffs.
Aguilar was a takeaway machine, topping the roster with 11 fumble recoveries and eight interceptions.
Including the game-winning touchdown catch against Excel Christian, he also dashed the Warriors with his defense, hawking a season-high three picks.
He also booked two-INT games versus Tonopah and Carlin, recovering two fumbles against the Railroaders and another by the Muckers.
Not only was he taking the ball away, he also took it to the house — turning five turnovers from opposing teams in Wells touchdowns — returning four fumbles and an interception to paydirt.
Against the Colts — during the wet, sloppy conditions of a three-quarter cloudburst — he gathered up a season-high four fumbles, adding two-recovery contests against the Railroaders and once again on Sept. 21, 2018, a 56-30 loss at Eureka.
“It’s really cold there (Aberdeen), but coming from Wells — I’m used to it. When you are working hard, you’ll get hot,” Aguilar said.
Academically, Aguilar plans to major in business.
“The campus is small; it’s not overwhelming or too much. I like the hands-on approach that is available with the teachers. You get a lot more one-on-one with smaller classes,” he said.
Congratulations to Zane Rodriguez and Enrique Aguilar for their stellar careers at Wells High School, and to wishing them similar success as teammates at Presentation College and hoping for paralleled results in their academic and professional pursuits.