ODESSA, Texas (KMID/KPEJ) – The Odessa Bronchos have taken strides in each of third-year head coach Dusty Ortiz’s seasons. Ortiz led Odessa to back-to-back three-win seasons after inheriting a winless program in 2021, and this season, he is prepared to lead his team to take an even bigger step: making the playoffs.

“Year 3? Playoffs. I thought I was going to do it in year two, and in year three, that definitely is on the radar as something that we need to check,” Ortiz said.

The Bronchos football program has not appeared in the playoffs since 2013 and Ortiz feels if there was any year Odessa could see the postseason, it’s this year with a four-star wide receiver on the roster.

“Not every year do you have a Division 1 receiver like Ivan and I think a lot of the kids understand that,” Ortiz said.

Ivan Carreon returns for his senior year with Odessa after recently committing to the University of Oklahoma. Carreon stands head and shoulders above the majority of his team and opponents at 6 feet 6 inches tall, giving an added advantage to the Bronchos’ offense.

“He’s usually going against somebody that’s a lot smaller than him so if we can throw it anywhere in the vicinity of his wingspan, he’s going to find a way to come down,” Ortiz said. “I think breaking in a new quarterback like Mikey Cota, that’s a huge advantage. He’s going to be able to take advantage of that anytime, he’s going to have the confidence to throw it up and Ivan’s going to go get it.”

Junior Mikey Cota emerged as the new starting quarterback for Odessa after it lost Jaylien Jones to graduation. Cota appeared in the Bronchos’ 2023 spring game where he passed and rushed for multiple touchdowns.

“[Cota] brings just a whole new dimension, so you think you can take care of Ivan, and then you have to worry about this quarterback that can run all around, make throws, scramble and get away. He has speed, he’s strong,” Ortiz said.

Cota and Carreon have been working on their connection through both the spring and summer this offseason in preparation for an explosive year on offense.

It’s been pretty good, I feel like our connection is just getting stronger and it’ll be stronger throughout the whole season,” Carreon said.

“Throw it up there and [Carreon] is going to go grab it. And then all the receivers– he can teach them what he sees and more experience. He’s been on varsity for a couple of years now and he’s teaching me the experience of what it’s like to be on varsity,” Cota said.

The difference-maker for Odessa this season is honing in their defense. In 2022, the Bronchos’ offense scored an average of 27 points in their seven losses, while their defense gave up an average of 49 points. Coach Ortiz said he has taken personal responsibility for getting the Odessa defense up to speed this year.

“Our defense just has to get more stops. I mean, you look at the tape and that will explain the whole story. If we can get just 4 or 5 more stops per game, I think that’ll be the difference in the whole season,” Ortiz said. “We’re scoring enough points to win any game and we have to get a couple more stops to help out the offense.”

Odessa has won just one district game in four years competing in a stout District 2-6A, but the Bronchos feel confident in their ability to compete with the best of them this season.

“I feel like we have a great chance at beating anybody in our district this year,” Carreon said. “I feel like we can go win the district. It’s not out of our reach.”

Odessa will have to beat the odds if they intend to win a district title. Dave Campbell’s Texas Football magazine predicted the Bronchos would finish last, as they have the past four seasons.

Odessa spends the first three weeks of its 2023 season on the road, starting at Lubbock Monterey Friday, Aug. 25. The Bronchos’ first home game is Sept. 15 against Amarillo.

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