GREAT EXPECTATIONS — Port Neches-Groves hungry to recreate last season’s success

Published 12:26 am Wednesday, July 19, 2023

PORT NECHES — With football season just over the horizon, expectations are lofty as ever for the Port Neches-Groves Indians.

Last year’s Cinderella run to an appearance in the state championship game marked one of the best seasons in school history.

As PNG prepares for the upcoming campaign, head coach Jeff Joseph understands just how high the bar has been set. The entire program is hungry for another shot at the state title, which barely evaded them — now, they’ll look to recreate that success despite some major roster changes.

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“I think you just have to remind yourself that each team is different,” Joseph said. “Each team is unique, so it’s a whole new set of challenges that we’re facing this year. We lost 39 seniors last year, so that’s a ton to replace. It’s nice to have high expectations, but going into the season, I think we all have to be aware that there’s gonna be a little bit of a target on us.”

The offense is nearly an all-new group, with just four starters returning. The unit is led by a familiar face in senior Shea Adams, who is transitioning into the full-time quarterback job.

The gifted athlete scored 31 touchdowns last year while being deployed in a variety of ways at receiver, tight end and quarterback.

“I envision Shea growing as a vocal leader that our team can rally around,” Joseph said. “Athletically he can do just about anything on the football field, so he’s pretty gifted in that regard. He makes our life pretty easy because he’s such a smart kid.”

Standout tackle Jackson Christian, who started 15 games as a sophomore, is expected to improve even more after a long offseason in the weight room. Junior London Nunley emerged as a receiving threat in the playoffs and may also be in for a big year.

While the PNG defense lost several key contributors from the state-qualifying team, it is still a fairly experienced group. A number of players expected to be at the top of the depth chart have been on the field during big games.

Reid Richard is a mainstay at cornerback, while John Hernandez started 14 games at nose tackle. Sean Gardiner, Dylan Talbert and Isaac Uriostegui all started several games at linebacker, as well.

“I want us to look like a team that plays with great effort on defense,” Joseph said. “We want 11 guys flying to the football and being physical. That’s really the goal for our whole team, to play with tremendous effort.”

Putting in that extra effort has been a primary focus for the team throughout the offseason. Joseph said the players have made big strides in the weight room building core and lower body strength, which should help players match up better against bigger opponents.

Joseph also spoke about the importance of building team chemistry, especially when considering how different 2023’s team looks compared to the 2022 Indians.

“One of the big things our team was able to accomplish last year was gaining the camaraderie and the team mentality that’s necessary to win football games. You hope you build that through the structure of your program, including what we do in the offseason and what we do over the summer. Making those guys work and do it together is a big part of what we believe in, and that’s what’s going to lead to us being a better team in the future.”

The second-year head coach has truly rejuvenated the PNG program. Joseph also feels coaches and players have a head start due to bringing back the entire staff; now they just have to keep the momentum going.

“We control what we can control in this building and at practice,” Joseph said. “We just have to really narrow our focus on improving ourselves and making our team the best version of itself. That’s what our goal is — we’re gonna put our best foot forward and play as hard as we can, every chance we get on Friday nights.”

— by Keagan Smith