BULLDOGS READY FOR 2023 — Nederland players heating up as season looms

Published 12:34 am Saturday, July 1, 2023

On a scorching June afternoon in Nederland, some 60 Bulldogs football players took the field for the team’s summer program. The open facility provided no shade; nowhere to hide from the temperatures that crept into the mid 90s.

The was not unlike playing in a game. A player cannot hide on a field. If he is ill prepared, other coaches and players know it and take advantage. That mental and physical toughness has defined Nederland football for decades and is still being molded.

University Interscholastic League rules limit the amount and type of practices a team can have in June, so the Bulldogs were focused on installing a new offense and working on fundamentals.

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Last year, a young Nederland team finished 2-8 on the season (2-5 in District 9-5A Division II).

The then sophomore-heavy team was competitive in games against ranked opponents. The team is still relatively young with only 11 seniors slated to suit up in the black and gold this season.

KJ Tezeno gets in his summer work for Nederland High School this week. (Chris Moore/The News)

Led by seventh-year head coach Monte Barrow, the Bulldogs hope to bring some of that momentum into the fall.

“Having everyone here in the summer is a big plus,” Barrow said. “This is a time where you can fall behind other programs if you are not getting the work done in the summer. We don’t look at it as a summertime workout. It is just a continuation of our offseason, which started back in January and goes right into July 31, when you put helmets on. There is a lot of excitement out here.”

Nederland has a new offensive coordinator after Bryan Spell took over the Career and Technical Education program at the high school. Jason Smith takes over the role for the Bulldogs.

“There are some new concepts and it is different language,” Barrow said of the new offense. “It is Coach Smith’s to do his thing with. I think he has related well to the kids. Our quarterbacks are really excited about it.”

Quarterback Ayden Sunday is leading the team’s offense, which found a good deal of success on the ground last year thanks to Sunday’s mobility and the emergence of, then, sophomore running back Hubert Thomas, who will carry the load again this year.

“We have receivers who can make plays and an o-line that can block,” Sunday said. “It makes my job a whole lot easier. We have some good leaders on the team. Having Hubert has helped a ton. Defenses have to defend the run, and he is always going to be a threat, whether it is running or catching the ball downfield.”

The backend of the Nederland defense should look familiar to fans with Ellis Walker, Cole Guidroz, Isiah Hernandez and James Ladner returning.

“They have played a lot of football and still have two more years,” Barrow said.

Even in the heat of a Southeast Texas summer, the Bulldogs have no interest in living in the shadow of nearby rival Port Neches-Groves, who made it to the 5A-II state title game in 2022.

“We are fighting for a district championship and we want to make the playoffs,” Sunday said. “It makes us work a lot harder. We know when we are out here, other schools are also out here getting better. Just knowing there are better teams out there pushes us.”

Barrow said the team has not talked about PNG’s run since the season ended.

“It wasn’t us,” he said. “Because it wasn’t us, all we can do is work better to give ourselves the best chance.”

This year, Nederland will host big games against Fort Bend Marshall (Oct. 13) and PNG (Oct. 27).