Natalia Mustang Senior Diego Zapata wrapped up his high school football career with a great showing in the San Antonio All-Star game last Saturday before 18,242 fans at the Alamodome. Zapata accounted for one of five touchdowns scored by the Team Black during the annual event which showcases the best seniors from 2A-6A classifications from the San Antonio Region.
Zapata was one of 15 seniors to take the field for the 2019-2020 Natalia Mustang Varsity Football team. This was a record season, as the Stangs advanced to the Area Playoffs for the first time since 2002 after finishing 2nd place in district. Diego was the first player from Natalia, to ever play in this game.
“I couldn’t be happier for Diego,” Natalia Head Coach Ilyan Martinez said. “Talent aside, he is that kid every coach hopes for. He is just a hard working, humble kids and someone I feel really earned the right to represent his family, our program and this community by playing in this game.”
Zapata was one of the top receivers to come through the program over the past 20 seasons and was best known for his electric big plays.
Playing in the Alamodome was by far the best experience of my life,” Natalia Senior Diego Zapata said. “Being on the field playing in this All-Star game with some of the best talent in the area was truly unreal and a moment I will forever be grateful for.”
The Natalia Senior was truly a play-maker all season for Natalia helping lead the boys in blue to their furthest season run since 2002.
Zapata ranked #3 overall on the 2019 Mustang Football team when it came to offensive production and as the top receiver on the squad. Zapata had 28 receptions for 568 yards for a 20.3 average with 9 touchdowns. He also rushed 9-37 yards on the season and also had 497 yards in kick-returns including one for a touchdown.
Last Saturday night when the lights were on, although this was no small town stadium, Zapata found a way to leave a big mark. Zapata was on the team with Kerrville Tivy Senior QB Trapper Pannell who led the Black squad to a 35-34 victory as Pannell connected for two fourth quarter TDs.
“In the first half, everybody was kind of like, ‘Ah, it’s an all-star game, we’re getting beat pretty bad,” said Pannell, who was 16 of 25 for 273 yards and three TDs. “In the end, everybody was like, ‘We want to win. We’re here to win.’ It was a lot of energy. Going into that last drive, it was incredible.”
Team Black scored the game’s final 19 points, including Pannell’s game-winning 50-yard touchdown pass to Roosevelt running back/wide receiver Rashod Owens which came with 2:30 left.
Zapata was apart of the second touchdown of the game for his team, as QB Pannell found him on a slant route over the middle resulting in a 25 yard strike. This gave his large Natalia cheering section plenty to cheer about. This touchdown pass, was one of three that came his way. He was able to catch two of three, as the third pass was off target a tad.
“I feel like having guys around me that were at the same level or higher, truly challenged me,” Zapata said. “I went into this game ready to have Team Black win whether I got the ball or not. When I scored, it truly felt like a dream come true.”
“Anything you do in life, you want to win,” said Clemens coach Jared Johnston, who coached Team Black. “That was no different today. The main thing is we wanted these kids to experience a great time. Winning the game was the cherry on top.”
Team gold who was coached by Southwest Dragon Head Coach Matt Elliott scored 21 unanswered points to lead 34-16 at the end of the first three quarters.
After this, it was all Team Black who rallied for the win.
Pannell jump-started the comeback, connecting with Tivy Antler Brooks McCoy for a 30-yard TD to pull Team Black within 34-22 only 30 seconds into the final period. Judson quarterback Michael Chandler II, rushed for a 2-yard TD to trim the deficit to 34-28 with 8:21 left.
Team Black marched 74 yards in six plays, needing only 71 seconds for the decisive score. Pannell, voted player of the game, ran three times for 24 yards, including a huge 9-yard scramble on fourth-and-5 from his own 41-yard-line. The next play saw the Antler QB connect with Oklahoma State-bound Owens for a 50-yard TD pass to tie it at 34. Kerrville Tivy kicker Jared Zirkel’s PAT kick was the winning margin.
Natalia’s Zapata was asked his thoughts on this being his final football related game of his high school career. “It really hasn’t hit me yet, but I feel like that this is the best way I could end my career.”
Zapata was quick to credit his family, coaches and his community for helping him get to this point in his life.
“I would Like to first and foremost, thank my family, coaches and community for helping me get to this point. I plan on playing at the next level where given the opportunity. I truly want to give a college the best version of myself and show them that our football players in Natalia are some of the best in the state of Texas,” an excited Zapata said following the game.
Natalia Head Coach Ilyan Martinez had these final thoughts about Diego: “He got the opportunity to show what he could do against the best in the area and he lived up to the hype,” Martinez said. “Diego has always been a team first guy, so to see him get this opportunity to represent his team was really exciting. Our school and town doesn’t get the opportunities as some others, but Diego did a good job making the most of his and hopefully opened the door for another Mustang in the future. He is an excellent football player, but an even better young man. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for him.”
As of press time, he has not made a decision on his future when it comes to where he will play college football. When he does, we will let you know. Congrats Diego on a job well done!
By Eric Smith