Year Of The Dragon
This article appears in the March 2005 edition of SchoolSports magazine.
Success. Every team strives for it. It just happens to be a way of life at Southlake Carroll.
For example, the Southlake Carroll football team finished 16-0 this past fall and captured the Class 5A Division II state title to earn the No. 1 final ranking in the SchoolSports.com National Football Top 25. It was the Dragons' second state championship in three seasons.
At the center of the team's title run was senior running back Aaron Luna, who rushed for 1,046 yards and 12 touchdowns and caught 18 passes for 263 yards and a touchdown.
Impressive numbers, for sure. But those stats are even more remarkable when you consider that football isn't even Luna's best sport. That would be baseball, where his hitting skills, speed and leadership have helped the Dragons to a 53-17-1 record over the past two seasons.
Luna is joined on the baseball team by senior pitcher Chase Daniel, who starred at quarterback for the Dragons and was named Class 5A Player of the Year this past fall. Other gridiron stars who help Southlake Carroll on the diamond include seniors Kenton Gedwed, Adam Hansen, Beau Galbraith and Ryan Hopkins.
To Southlake Carroll baseball coach Larry Hughes, the winning attitude brought by the football players has been an indispensable part of his team's success.
"They bring a lot to the table the moment they step into the locker room," says Hughes, who is in his ninth season at Southlake Carroll and 19th overall as a coach. "They are used to the heated battles in football. It helps when you get into big games and tight situations. They stay focused, don't panic and compete until the last out. It carries over pretty quickly to the other players."
Luna credits his and his teammates' desire to work hard to former Southlake Carroll defensive coordinator Charlie Stalcup, who died last July from melanoma.
"He had chemotherapy every day, but he still made it to practice," says Luna, noting that the football team dedicated its championship season to Stalcup. "It was an unbelievable life lesson right in front of our eyes."
Drawing on the lessons learned from Stalcup, Luna has developed a commitment to success that — when combined with his talent — makes him the unquestioned star on the diamond for the Dragons. Hughes just happened to see this star potential back when Luna was a freshman.
The Dragons were in the state playoffs, and Hughes decided to call Luna up from the freshman squad. Hughes wanted to utilize Luna, who won the district title in the 100-meter dash during his freshman year, as a pinch runner rather than at the plate.
The move paid off, as Luna's speed helped him wreak havoc on the basepaths and lead Southlake Carroll to the state title. Not bad for a player who didn't even sniff the batter's box.
"He sure didn't look like a freshman out there," says Hughes, who had 288 career wins entering this season. "He blended in real well."
Going into his sophomore season, Luna was slated to start in center field, but injuries necessitated a move to third base. While a switch from the outfield to the hot corner is usually a difficult one, Luna handled it with ease.
He distinguished himself even more at the plate in his first crack at Texas varsity pitching, which is a lot like jumping from AA minor-league ball to the majors. In 36 games as a sophomore, Luna batted .505 with 10 homers, 48 RBI and 17 steals while posting a .651 on-base percentage and a .435 batting average with runners in scoring position.
Among Luna's top performances that year was a three-homer game against state power Flower Mound, including a walk-off, three-run blast to give Southlake Carroll the win in extra innings.
"All three of those home runs were rockets out of the park," says Hughes. "That's the way he is. He doesn't hit many soft balls. It's just very rare to see a high school kid do that against a good team."
"I just try to put the bat on the ball, make contact and let my hands react," says the ever-modest Luna. "I don't really think about home runs."
Following his breakout sophomore season, Luna played for the USA Baseball Youth National Team that defeated Chinese Taipei, 11-7, to win the gold medal at the 2003 IBAF World Youth Championships in Taiwan. It's an experience Luna still lists as his favorite moment in sports.
"It was a huge honor to play with the best players in the country," says Luna. "You really can't describe the feeling of wearing USA across your chest and singing the national anthem in a foreign country. It hasn't even sunk in yet."
Luna then enjoyed a terrific junior season despite seeing fewer pitches to hit. He was named Player of the Year by The Dallas Morning News last season after batting .427 with 11 homers, 38 RBI, 15 steals, a .530 on-base percentage and a .469 average with runners in scoring position.
With numbers like those, it's no surprise Luna had his pick of top college programs to choose from. But the question still remained: Would he play football or baseball at the next level?
Luna answered that in November when he signed to play baseball at Rice over Texas, Texas A&M, USC, Oklahoma State, Notre Dame, Arizona and UCLA.
"The opportunities in baseball were greater," says Luna, who will play second base this season after moving to shortstop as a junior. "I just kind of knew all along that baseball was my calling. I feel like I'm better at baseball. Plus, you can have a longer career in baseball."
But that doesn't mean Luna is totally shutting the door on football.
"I kind of toss it back and forth on whether to walk on or not [to play football at Rice]," he says. "I do know I'm playing strictly baseball as a freshman."
Regardless, whether it's on the baseball diamond or the football field, Rice has gained a winner in Aaron Luna.