BELTON — Ruben Jimenez wouldn’t mind if Belton’s game against Killeen Ellison tonight played out similarly to the first time he faced the Eagles, although he certainly could do without the stomach drops and waves of anxiety.
As a sophomore two years ago, Jimenez got his first taste of action as a varsity quarterback. At the time, Belton’s now senior signal caller was the backup QB for the Tigers, and his limited playing time consisted of filling in at wide receiver and on special teams. That all changed suddenly when then-starting quarterback Connor Carothers injured his shoulder and informed Jimenez that he would have to take over under center.
“My heart dropped for a minute when he told me he couldn’t play anymore,” Jimenez said, recalling the moment he found out he would be Belton’s new starting quarterback for the remainder of that season. “I was terrified, but I ended up doing pretty well.”
Pretty well is one way to put it.
Jimenez threw for 250 yards and four touchdowns to help lead the Tigers to an 86-55 victory. The following week, Jimenez recorded 253 yards and five touchdowns passing in his first varsity start, a 63-7 win over Waco.
So, if tonight’s District 12-6A matchup against Ellison at Tiger Field goes the same way it did on that fateful night two years ago, Belton should be all smiles heading into the weekend.
And after the way the last three weeks panned out for the Tigers, they could use something to smile about.
“Sitting at three weeks now of just practicing and two weeks of no games, it’s nice to finally have a game to get ready for,” said Jimenez, who was one of the Belton varsity players permitted to practice over the past few weeks after several Tigers were forced to quarantine because of positive COVID-19 tests and subsequent contact tracing. “Having that energy and excitement has been great. It’s gotten the whole school excited, especially since it’s homecoming. First game back, homecoming and we’re wearing all red. It’s a good feeling.”
Belton (2-5, 2-2) hasn’t played since Oct. 30. The Tigers postponed their game against Harker Heights and cancelled their highly-anticipated district clash against Temple, a move that Jimenez said “hits your heart.” Born and raised in Belton, Jimenez explained that there are a number of things Belton seniors looked forward to in their final high school football season, and playing against the Wildcats one last time ranks pretty high on that list.
“It’s always been that big game that everyone loves to play,” Jimenez said. “You grow up wanting to play Temple your senior year. The fans make that game. When you look at some of the pictures from those Temple-Belton games, one side is usually completely red and the other is blue. Fans are screaming and yelling, and you can hear it all on the field. Knowing that you’re on the field, playing in a game that so many people are into and watching, it gives you a sense of energy.”
Jimenez, who never seems devoid of energy on the field, has helped lead Belton into the hunt for a playoff berth. At 6-feet and 230 pounds, the athletic quarterback is efficient at using both his arm and legs to make plays. Jimenez has 1,040 yards and nine touchdowns passing, and has added 504 yards and seven scores on the ground.
His ability to turn a well-defended play into a gain is a trait that makes Jimenez dangerous, according to Belton head coach Brett Sniffin.
“Because of his dual-threat ability, the defense can have the perfect play lined up, and he can still make something happen out of a broken play,” Sniffin said. “As a defensive guy, that drives you nuts. But when he’s on your side, it’s like a no-no-no-yeah kind of play. He can make a few of those and that really helps us out.”
Jimenez has learned how to take tough hits from opposing linebackers and defensive backs. That toughness can likely be attributed to his upbringing and willingness to work hard while doing a variety of jobs. Everything from lawn service, concrete laying, construction work and more have all seen the sweat of Jimenez’s brow.
That’s not to mention the 3,000-acre exotic safari — one of several ranches Jimenez helps work with his family. With ranches in Belton and Troy, physical labor often finds Jimenez when he’s away from football and the classroom.
He doesn’t mind. By now, its second nature.
“We have an exotic safari in Eden that has all kinds of animals — Zebras, Ostriches, Porcupines, Kangaroos, all kinds of deer, Emus, Buffalo and more. It’s a lot of fun to be a part of,” Jimenez said. “When you’re by yourself pouring concrete, sweeping up, cleaning off the tools or whatever, you have to do it as if you’re not alone. You have to give full effort and take pride in what you’re doing. I learned that and I’ve carried that over into all areas of my life, including football.”
It’ll take that strong work ethic for Belton to secure a playoff berth with three regular-games remaining, all of which are at Tiger Field. Belton is currently in a tie for fourth place in the 12-6A standings, and Jimenez is determined to get the Tigers into the playoffs and replace the regular-season game that was lost with a first-round playoff matchup.
“We’re definitely pushing for that one game. Even if we have to drive far away, we want a playoff game,” Jimenez said. “These next three games are big and it’s great that they’re all at home. It means a lot to the seniors and hopefully we can get the win against Ellison and take that momentum and take care of business to get into the playoffs.”