Football wasn’t Luis Medina’s first love. He grew up playing soccer and never thought about strapping on a helmet and shoulder pads.
But the sport began to draw him in. He became bored of soccer; it became monotonous to him. Then his friend, current Hermiston Bulldogs starting running back Cory Adams, invited him to go out for football in seventh grade.
“I didn’t know much about football besides just kicking,” Medina said Friday. “They gave me a shot at kicking and I made the team. I just fell in love with it and had a passion for it.”
Now, the senior is an integral part of the Hermiston football team that will play for the Oregon 5A state championship Saturday in Hillboro.
He said the atmosphere of the two sports is completely different. Football is about family, he said, and that constant, never-wavering support kept him in shoulder pads.
“It’s like another family,” Medina said. “We’re always together. That’s why football became my favorite sport.”
Six years later, Medina isn’t just an all-league kicker, he’s also an all-league defensive end as well as a quality running back.
“(Medina) is in a class by himself,” head coach Mark Hodges said.
But he didn’t start out that way.
In seventh grade, he started out as linebacker and a kicker, and he said he “wasn’t very good at” playing linebacker.
He didn’t give up. He kept playing, kept trying out, kept getting better.
As a freshman, Medina was a wide receiver and cornerback. He came in as a tall, skinny kid who didn’t know all that much about football. He kicked, but he was closer to the stereotypical kicker in terms of his size and aversion to contact.
He hit the weight room in the offseason between his freshman and sophomore years and bulked up to around 200 pounds, when his coaches told him they were moving him to defensive end.
From there, he started going to football camps with Bulldogs wide receiver Ethan Snow, and eventually he became the three-way player he is now.
“He showed a determination every day to get better,” Hodges said of Medina’s growth. “He has a real good motor, so it was just a matter of continuing to work and continuing to mature.”
As a kicker, Medina is one of the best, if not the best, in the region, and one of the best in the state. He consistently produces touchbacks on kickoffs and has a field goal range of about 50 yards. In Hermiston’s 12 games, he’s kicked off 87 times and had 51 go for touchbacks. He’s only missed six extra points and is 8 of 11 in field goals this season with a long of 44 yards. He hasn’t missed a field goal since Nov. 7 in the Bulldogs’ first-round playoff win over Sandy, and hasn’t missed a point after since the War on 84 win over Pendleton a month ago.
His kicking foot has an impact on both the offense and the defense.
“He’s a weapon. He’s a rare weapon,” Hodges said. “He definitey has helped us with our field position game, and it’s defnitely a big aid to our defense because it doesn’t put our defense in a bad situation. It makes that defense a lot better.”
On offense, having a kicker with the range that Medina does has an effect on the offesive game plan.
“What it does is it gets you thinking about how you’re gonna approach working down there in that zone, in that area,” Hodges said. “You know you’ve got (those) three points up there, and you don’t want to give (those) three points up. It causes you to be smarter with the football and realize that, if you are smart with the football, you’re gonna at least be able to get a guaranteed three.”
His cousin, Juan Rodriguez, kicked for Hermiston and Western Oregon University, and has been a role model for Medina.
“I’ve always looked up to him,” the senior said of his cousin. “He was a great kicker, as well. That’s where I wanted to be a kicker like him. I want to thank him for everything that he’s done.”
As a defensive end, Medina has been very hard to block this season. He’s 6-foot, 205 pounds, he’s fast, and he’s strong. His numbers reflect the relative dominance he’s had from the right defensive end spot. He’s third on the team in sacks with 8.5, and third on the team in tackles for loss with 15.5. In all, he has 64 tackles, with 26 solos. Plus, he’s forced two fumbles, recovered another, and batted down three passes.
He’s very strong from the hips down, and he has good technique at the point of contact. Hodges said that’s one of the main reasons for his success up front.
“He has excellent anticipation on the snap counts, he gets off very quick,” Hodges said. “Hee uses his hands well. I think it’s his aggression and his motor. He’s unstoppable.”
As a running back, he’s buried on the depth chart by senior Adams and junior Sam Colbray. But it’s not because he’s a bad runner. He’s averaging 3.5 yards per carry this season and has scored a touchdown, and got a lot of second-half clock-burning carriers against Liberty in the quarterfinals, as well as a 54-yard kick return to start the game against the Falcons.
He’s buried on the depth chart because of he’s the kicker and a stand-out defensive end. According to Hodges, he’s just more valuable there.
“He’s irreplacable,” Hodges said.
With such a huge leg, Medina can almost certainly kick at the next level. As Hodges noted, not many schools offer scholarships for kickers, but it’s likely someone will take a chance on Medina by offering a roster spot as a walk-on. Hodges said some interest has been coming Medina’s way, but Medina hasn’t seen any of it yet.
Football wasn’t Medina’s first love, but it’s his current love, and he’ll take it as far as it can go.