And to think he had been a little worried about whether anyone would show up. Good one, Austin.

When one of Vela’s all-time favorite sons put pen to paper Monday and signed on with the formidable Mary Hardin-Baylor football program, the house was packed with admirers, friends, and family. Controlling for the percentage of opportunistic students seeking a reprieve from class for a few minutes, the crowd at the Roberto Pulido Performing Arts Center was still largely made up of people who were there to pay tribute to Austin Garza.

And that makes sense.

He is indeed an All-State kicker named MVP of the 2017 SaberCat football team – a feat difficult to nab as a specialist – and the fellow who kicked the most exciting field goal in the history of the city, to beat Brownsville Hanna in the closing seconds of bi-district. And he’s also been a four-year standout in soccer. True that, all.

But the fact is, Garza has also been and remains one of the most beloved kids in school, a gentle and creative soul known far and wide, loved by nearly all, and valued for his unique character and charm. Just watching peers swarm about him during the signing, hugging him and chattering away with phones afire, was enough indication that Garza is a special force of loveable nature in the SaberNation. His rich, melodious laugh out of a matinee idol visage would confirm that.

So Mary Hardin-Baylor is getting a genuine phenomenon in its most recent recruiting class, a super consistent booter who converted 70 of 71 extra points in 2017, made 12 of 17 field goals, and scored 106 points for a 12-1 ball club. A fine addition for a nationally renowned team that won the DIII national title two years ago, made the finals last year before losing in the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl, and has won 10 games or more for each of the past dozen seasons.

The university is located in Belton, a town of 20,000 located an hour north of Austin; it’s a private school with an enrollment of 4,000, and the athletic program enjoyed the services of two other city kids recently, the Heroic Hinojosas of softball fame, Leeanne and Myranda.

Playing in the American Southwest Conference against such foes as Hardin-Simmons, Howard Payne, and McMurry, the Crusaders have a real powerhouse, with three appearances in the national semifinals, three in the finals, and three in the quarterfinals in the past 15 years.

This means that Garza will get the chance to kick for a team that is in the national DIII spotlight, one that routinely recruits the best athletes available and uses them to good measure, to say the least.

He’s faced the pressure before, as the amazing 54-yard winner against Hanna will attest, and his consistency as a kicker has been incredible. As consistent has been his good- natured and friendly personality, which is why the throngs of admirers Monday were jovial and yet sad as well.

How to replace Austin Garza in the football lineup? Best friend Tate Scott appears to be set to fill the role, also doubling as punter. But the hole ol’ No. 40 leaves in the classroom and social circles – replacing his genuine charisma and flair – will be a tougher task indeed.

NOTES: Teammate Saul Dominguez Jr. will also be playing at the next level, as the graduating DB inked a pact Tuesday to attend Concordia University, up in Chicago.