BRAD ROBICHAUX — Matt Burnett’s recipe for achieving dreams

Published 12:20 am Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Matt Burnett knows a thing or two about achieving goals, I would think. He did exactly what he wanted to do — coach at his alma mater, Port Neches-Groves High School, and take the Indians to a state championship game.

To achieve those goals, Burnett needed a few things, like the right people, the right system and, of course, determination.

First, he needed an offensive coordinator when he stepped up to become the head football coach and athletics director at PNG. He told his wife he needed to go “seek the truth” as he put it, which meant going out to learn something. He went to McNeese State University in Lake Charles, La., to see the Cowboys practice.

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Burnett consulted a friend of his who was an assistant coach at McNeese about his offensive coordinator problem. His friend’s advice was simple: Recruit one. Coaches recruit players all the time, so why not coaches?

Burnett took the advice and gave a call to the coordinator he had in mind: Mike Long, a former quarterback at Lamar University who was a coach at Clear Creek High School in League City at the time. As luck would have it, Long had been hoping to make a move to a new school when Burnett called.

Burnett had forgotten, though, that along with Long came his son. Dustin Long himself played football and joined the Indians’ freshman team when he and his father came to PNG. After a year, Dustin was moved up to varsity, starting all three years, Burnett said.

While it took a whole team effort, the contributions of Mike and Dustin Long bore fruit after four years, and the Indians earned the opportunity to play Stephenville for the 1999 state championship. Dustin went on to play quarterback for Texas A&M on a football scholarship.

One of the “truths” Burnett had found on that trip to Lake Charles and following years coaching with Mike Long was the value of finding good people and good players. That’s one of the things he says made his dreams of coaching for PNG and making it to the state championship game achievable, along with the right system in place, one that fits the people and one that everyone can believe in.

“If I put them in a system that doesn’t fit, it’s going to be hard every Sunday or Saturday because the system wasn’t right, so we worked on that real hard,”
Burnett said. “I called it ‘Finding the Truth’ and it’ll set me free. I had to have a system, and that took a lot of work and bringing in good coaches and good ideas and being receptive of that.”

Finally, he said it took determination, not just on his part, but on the part of the rest of the coaching staff and the players to invest in the team and its success.

“You’ve got to mix it in with the burning desire to compete, and that’s part of my job,” Burnett said. “You’ve got to get them one grade above that, one notch above, and that’ll take you a long way but that might not take you enough because Nederland’s got it too, Stephenville’s got it too. You’ve just got to work on ways to get them to grit their teeth.”

The world of sports abounds with examples of achievement in the face of challenge, but you don’t have to look to the national pros to find them. Just look over in the direction of Mauriceville, where Burnett still coaches and teaches PE in his retirement.

There is someone who dreamed, and with the right stuff, his dream became reality.

Brad Robichaux is a reporter for The Port Arthur News. He can be reached at