BISBEE — When the Bisbee Pumas officially begin football practice Monday no one will be more anxious than Emiterio “EJ” Hernandez who is about to start his senior season where he helps anchor the offensive and defensive front line.
Hernandez has been busy during the off season attending various football camps and NFL combines around the state. He has been invited to play in the Tiki Bowl in Hawaii this December which is coached by college coaches. Two weeks ago an invitation arrived in the mail inviting Hernandez to play the Blue-Grey All-American Bowl which will be played in January at AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys.
He’s also been attending the camps and clinics while also preparing for his final season at BHS with a little extra motivation hoping it will get him noticed and provide him with the opportunity to play football at the next level, something that has been a dream of his for as long as he can remember.
To play in the two All-Star games the family is trying to raise roughly $6,000 to cover airfare and other expenses..
According to Alexa, the All-American Bowl is an all inclusive event with custom uniforms being provided to the players and a Super Bowl size ring to each participant. The game will be televised and the fact it’s being played inside AT&T Stadium, home of EJ’s favorite team makes the game even more appealing.
EJ was born in Douglas and played in the Douglas Chargers youth football program. His parents, Emit and Alexa, as well as several family members on Emit’s side are Bulldogs having both played sports and graduated from Douglas High School.
In the middle of EJ’s freshman year at DHS, he transferred to Bisbee, which meant making the daily commute. It’s a decision he says he didn’t make lightly, but it’s also one he has not regretted.
“Even though I have played with many of the players in Douglas my whole life I never felt really accepted here,” EJ said of Douglas. “Once I enrolled at Bisbee, they took me in right away and made me feel like I was one of them even though I had been there just a short time. They didn’t seem to mind I came from Douglas. They were happy I was there to play ball with them.”
Alexa, who teaches at BHS while Emit works for the BUSD maintenance department, says EJ is also doing a lot better academically than he was at DHS and was recently inducted into the National Honor Society.
“He is currently carrying a 3.4 grade point average,” she said. “At Douglas High School he really struggled, especially with a couple of teachers. I met with them. We went round and round. It finally got to a point where we felt it was time for a change. I was already teaching at Bisbee when we decided to make the switch.”
Both EJ and Alexa state that when they were contemplating the move they met with other family members and explained what was happening.
“Everyone has been so supportive of our decision,” Alexa said. “That’s what I think made this a whole lot smoother.”
EJ’s younger brother Fabian is also now attending school in Bisbee and plans on playing football for the Pumas once he gets into high school.
EJ started and played the entire pick game against Douglas two years ago which Bisbee won 36-21.
“That was so much fun,” he said. “Lining up against guys I had once played with was different but once the game got going my focus shifted to doing what I had to do to help us win.”
The Bisbee senior states head coach Brian Vertrees and the other coaches on the Pumas staff have been very supportive and encouraging of his desire to play at the next level.
“A lot of these invites he’s been getting to these combines have been because of their nominations,” Alexa said.
‘I’m really looking forward to the upcoming season,” EJ added. “I really like our schedule. I have a lot of expectations for not only the team, but also myself. Our sophomore season we went 8-2. This year the goal is 10-0 and I think we have the team to do that.”
He admits the two games that he’s really looking forward to the most is the Sept. 10 game against Douglas and the Oct. 8 game at home against Benson.
“I just want my last year to be a good year for Bisbee,” he said. “I’m going to go out and give it my all every game. I’m proud to say I’m a Puma.”
EJ is raising money to cover traveling expenses to the Hawaii and Texas All -Star games, donations can be made at gofund.me/2be7e1e1.
“One thing I can say about this kid is that he has goals,” Alexa said of her oldest son. “He sets them and his mind and he has met every single goal he has ever told me he was going to do. It started with playing varsity football as a freshman and participating in The Pick game and he did that so I know that this kid is going places because he has the commitment and the determination to do so. He makes us very very proud.”
“I just really want that opportunity to play at the next level,” EJ concluded. “If I can get a school to give me a chance, I know I can play at the next level.”