It’s an exciting time to be around the Gilroy High School football program. The Mustangs are 3-0 this year, after reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2009 last year, posting the first winning record since 2008, and winning their first playoff game since 2007. And no family embodies that enthusiasm for Gilroy football more than the Zendejas family, especially the junior triplets who encompass all aspects of the program.
The uniqueness of the family and its commitment to football is illustrated immediately by Marisela Zendejas, who has been part of the Mustangs’ program for all three years, just like her brother Salvador. But don’t assume that Marisela is another in the growing trend of female kickers. Quite the opposite, really.
As a freshman, Marisela played quarterback for the Mustangs’ frosh team, starting the final three games of the season, and leading Gilroy to wins in all three of them. She then moved to linebacker as a sophomore, starting on the junior varsity level, and continues to play that position this year on the varsity. She has also embraced her role on special teams, playing on the front line of protection and coverage units, and as a blocker on return teams.
“I try not to think about the size of the guys I am going against,” said Marisela, who stands 5-foot-4. “I just want to make my blocks and get my job done.”
Her effort has not been lost on head coach Jubenal Rodriguez, who is also in his third year with the program.
“Everyone is starting to outgrow her, but she holds her own and takes everyone on,” Rodriguez said. “She is fearless, and it shows in her career goal of becoming a police officer. She is the first to jump in on every scout team in practice, and does her job of blocking and hustling downfield on special teams. We expect her to also get playing time at linebacker or running back.”
The other active football participant among the triplets, Salvador, has become a force on the offensive and defensive lines for the Mustangs, at guard and defensive tackle. The 5-foot-10, 210-pound junior was the team’s Defensive Player of the Game in a season-opening win against Overfelt, and has continued to produce in wins over Carmel and Live Oak.
“Sal does a great job up front,” Rodriguez said. “He’s both very aggressive and disciplined defensively. And he plays with great stamina on both sides of the ball.”
Meanwhile, Sal has embraced the fact that Marisela has been with him every step of the way, while the other component of the triplets, sister Natalia, is a varsity cheerleader.
“Having all of us involved helps with motivation on a weekly basis,” Sal said. “I started playing in second grade, and Natalia and Marisela both started the same year as cheerleaders. It’s always been a full family thing with us.”
In sixth grade, Marisela decided to switch from cheering to participating, and never looked back.
“I always wanted to try it out, and once I started I didn’t go back,” Marisela added.
For his part, Sal has never once thought about taking it easy on his sister as she transitioned to the gridiron.
“Sometimes I’ll go hit her in practice (when she’s on the scout team),” Sal said. “She tries to hit me back, but that doesn’t really ever happen.”
Marisela concurred with Sal on that point, admitting that the day has yet to come when she gets the better of her ‘bigger’ brother. For now, though, she is happy to be grinding it out with a team and staff focused on success this year.
“It feels really good to get off to this start,” Marisela said. “It’s a great program that our coaches are running for us, and we’re working hard to get better every week.”
For Natalia, supporting her brother and sister on a weekly basis is a labor of love, and a unique opportunity to be involved in their athletic success.
“It’s really fun to have an up-close view of seeing both of them play,” Natalia said. “And it’s even more fun that the team is doing so well.”
The family commitment doesn’t stop there. Their mom is part of the boosters club, and active on a weekly basis with the football program.
“I’m very fortunate to have them as a football family in our program,” Rodriguez concluded.
As evidenced by the 3-0 start, which has a great likelihood of becoming 4-0 this Friday against Harbor before MBL-Pacific play begins the following week against Alisal, the entire program is fortunate to have the Zendejas clan on its side.