SANTA MARIA, Texas (ValleyCentral) — The Santa Maria football team is excited to play home games this year.

All of their games in 2021 were played on the road while their new stadium was being built.

“It looks nice,” said senior lineman/fullback Jordan Ramirez. “Have our family and friends come to check us out and give us support.”

Having kids come out for the team has been an issue for the school in the past.

Fourth-year head coach Izzy Gracia says that’s starting to change with the new stadium and other athletic upgrades at the school.

“This year we had a great summer and bringing in kids a lot,” Gracia said. “I think we’ve changed the culture a bit and kids are getting excited about it.”

In 2021 the Cougars finished with a 5-6 record and reached the first round of the playoffs.

The Cougars return eight starters on offense.

“Offensively, we’re looking pretty good,” said junior running back Esiah Gracia. “Attacking everything and going 100 percent.”

Santa Maria has seven defensive starters coming back including senior lineman/linebacker Nathan De La Rosa, who thinks they can improve on their fourth-placed finish in district play.

“Win district, go first in playoffs, and have an easier route,” he said.

The Cougars will begin their season at Falfurrias on Friday, August 26.