Evan Ren’s 2021 Gym Rat Team: The toughest, hardest-working teammates in the Big Country

While scoring and rebounding garner much of the attention in basketball, there are other elements, crucial to success, that seldom grab headlines. 

Behind the scenes is where character, effort and sacrifice set the foundation for teams to reach their full potential. And it is with our Big Country Preps Gym Rat Team that we salute the individuals who bring these elements to the table. 

This team isn’t about who the best players are — though some of the area’s top players are on this list. 

The Gym Rat Team is about outworking, outhustling and outgiving everyone around you, both on the floor and off. Hard-working, honest, selfless, tough, coachable kids are what we seek for this roster. 

A Gym Rat Team member can be your best player or the last player off the bench. But the one thing all of them bring is an uncompromisingly good attitude. 

It is for that reason that our Gym Rat Team is selected entirely by area coaches. And Big Country Preps is truly honored to present these individuals to you — the best “team players” (boys and girls) that the area had to offer during the 2020-21 season.

Players are listed in no particular order. 


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FEATURE: San Saba culture change began in the weight room.

SAN SABA — The clanging of weights and heavy metal music are audible, long before you set foot in the facility.

It is the sound of work. It is also the sound of a changed culture.

The San Saba weight room, an old middle school basketball gym converted into one of the area’s largest high school weight training facilities, is alive with activity by 6:45 a.m. each day. 

The pace is brisk. The noise is loud and the enthusiasm is off the charts.  Through it all, second-year coach Andreas Aguirre and his staff act as drill instructors, making sure wasted time is kept to an absolute minimum. It is a methodology introduced by Aguirre’s predecessor, Jerod Fikac, for whom Aguirre served as an assistant. 

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2020 SAN SABA FOOTBALL PREVIEW: Armadillos seek to demonstrate culture change

Entering his second year as head coach of the San Saba Armadillos, coach Andreas Aguirre is facing a challenge. 

With star players Sean O’Keefe (QB, Tulsa), Eli Salinas (RB, Hardin-Simmons) and Abel Martinez (DE/TE, Mesabi Range JC) having all graduated, the question of whether San Saba can keep its momentum is one Aguirre will try to answer.

It won’t be easy. 

Having posted a 27-2 record over the past two seasons, the Armadillos must now replace the 1,664 yards rushing and 1,381 yards passing charted by O’Keefe, the 2,063 rushing yards piled up by Salinas and the 68 tackles and nine sacks produced by Martinez. San Saba now has the daunting task of finding new faces to step into the roles. 

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COUNTDOWN TO TWO-A-DAYS: San Saba Armadillos

Football is fast approaching, and we at BigCountryPreps.com are committed to bringing you the information you need to prepare for your favorite team’s season.

We’ll be releasing our Big Country Preps Preseason Football Preview, the most comprehensive look at the upcoming Big Country football season anywhere, on Friday, Aug. 14. But you won’t have to wait until then to sate your gridiron appetite.

Leading up to the first day of fall football practice on Aug. 3, we’ll be spotlighting each 11-man team in the area and posing some of the key questions they’ll face in 2019 as part of our “Countdown to Two-a-Days” series.

After featuring Goldthwaite on Friday, we stay in District 4-2A Division I with the San Saba Armadillos. On Sunday, we will take a look at the Winters Blizzards followed by the Ballinger Bearcats on Monday.

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WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN: COVID-19 the only thing that stopped Dillos’ unlikely hoops run

The “What Might Have Been” feature series is Big Country Preps’ effort to celebrate area athletes who have seen their seasons affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The series will continue through June 15. If you have a suggested story for the “What Might Have Been” series, please contact Big Country Preps at Evan.Ren@BigCountryPreps.com.

Alamodome Shoot-Around photo courtesy of San Saba ISD 

The San Saba Armadillos’ run to the UIL Class 2A Boys Basketball State Tournament was so unlikely, even their coach didn’t imagine it.

“I thought we had enough athleticism and skill to get to the regional tournament,” second-year Armadillos coach Mark Kyle said. “Once you get to regional, anything’s possible. But I never thought about us going to state.”

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BCP PLAYOFF FORECAST: Six Big Country teams reach December

LAST WEEK: 8-2, .800

SEASON TOTAL: 483-92, .840

With the overall size of the Big Country encompassing more than 75 communities, one thing is nearly always certain: Somebody in a group that big is going to be good enough to make a run a state championship. 

And sure enough, heading into December, no fewer than six teams in the Big Country Preps coverage area are still alive on the road to Arlington. 

Brock, Hawley, San Saba and Hamlin have all pushed to the regional championship round in their respective classifications in 11-man, while Strawn and Blackwell have reached the state semifinals in six-man.

The task of forecasting it all falls on me, and we’re at the stage where getting it right is a real challenge. 

This column is having one of its best seasons ever on pick accuracy, consistently hitting at more than 80 percent on a weekly basis and currently holding at 84 percent on the year.  So we shall see. 

Here’s a look at this week’s games: 

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GAME STORY: San Saba routs Rivercrest, advances to regional final

MANSFIELD – Maybe it’s not so bad to have a slow start — as long as you play as well as the San Saba Armadillos did in the second quarter Friday night.

San Saba scored 30 second-quarter points despite the wet weather conditions at Vernon Newsom Stadium and rallied for a dominating 57-14 win over the Bogata Rivercrest Rebels in a Class 2A Division I regional-round playoff game.

The No. 3-ranked Armadillos (13-0) advanced to play Valley View in next week’s state quarterfinals. San Saba beat Valley View in last year’s football playoffs, when the Armadillos advanced to the state semifinals.

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FEATURE: San Saba shows two QBs, making O’Keefe a triple threat

Sean O’Keefe proved last year he’s a dual threat quarterback, capable of hurting a defense by passing and running the football. This year the San Saba senior has become a triple threat with receiving added to his skill set.

The undefeated and state-ranked Class 2A Armadillos (6-0) have shown a package — even to start some games — with junior Risien Shahan at quarterback and O’Keefe at wide receiver. So far, San Saba has used the package for a limited number of series usually in the first quarter, then moved O’Keefe back to quarterback, where he is a four-year starter.

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