PORT NECHES —
PORT NECHES – Some new faces dotted the second practice for the Port Neches-Groves football team this fall. Over the summer, PN-G head coach Brandon Faircloth hired three new coaches for his staff.
Mike Ballew was hired in time for spring practices and will coach the wide receivers. He previously worked with Faircloth at Odessa Permian and replaces former offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach Jared Wingfield, who took the head coaching job at Mabank last spring.
Co-defensive coordinator Ryan Cox left in the spring, too, to take a job as defensive coordinator at Lovejoy. In his place, Faircloth added Brett McPhatter to coach the defensive backs. McPhatter graduated from Orangefield and played fullback at McNeese State. He coached last season at East Chambers.
The final spot opened up when last year’s offensive line coach Eddie Parker left to take a position on Wingfield’s staff at Mabank. Toby Latiolais takes over Parker’s duties after spending three seasons on staff at Orangefield under Brian Huckabay. Latiolais was also assistant head coach in his final season at Orangefield and graduated from Bridge City.
The football staff also brought on Chad Luttrull, who will work with tight ends. Luttrull had a pro career after playing collegiately at Henderson State, spending time on the Dallas Cowboys roster before the 2001 season and playing for the Beaumont Drillers. He was an assistant coach at Lumberton last season as well as the head boy’s soccer coach. He will also coach boy’s soccer at PN-G.
Faircloth was pleased with how his team held up under its first two practices Tuesday. The team worked out twice Monday morning before sandwiching practices and walkthroughs around a media day, complete with team and individual pictures for the upcoming season.
One thing the Indians haven’t done this spring is hold back on what they’ve thrown at this team.
“We’ve looked fine,” Faircloth said. “Yesterday was really, really good. It felt like our 19th spring practice. There’s a lot of retention and practicing at a pretty good tempo. That was encouraging. We’ve got to continue to get better, but our tempo was good. We didn’t have to stop and explain a bunch of things.”
The Indians will practice Wednesday and Thursday in shirts and shorts before strapping on pads for the first time on Friday. PN-G will then have a week to practice in pads to get ready for their first and only scrimmage of the fall at Texas City.
“There’s urgency for teams who do spring practice,” Faircloth said. “We only get two weeks before the first scrimmage and three weeks before the first game. I think our urgency is good. We’ve got to keep that in the front of our minds, that Texas City is two weeks away. We’ve got a good energy and our seniors are leading well.”
Monday marked the first day the Indians got to play on their shiny, new turf that was installed this summer. The new turf looks good and plays well, according to Faircloth.
“It’s unbelievable, It’s very comfortable, and a lot softer than our old stuff,” Faircloth said. “It’s prettier too. The kids were excited. The school and fan base takes care of our kids better than any that I’ve ever seen. Our kids will work hard and play hard for them, because of how well they take care of them.”
The turf also features a couple new graphics, including the Indians’ logo at midfield and PN-G logos at the 20s.
“It’s pretty good,” quarterback A.J. Smith said. “We finally have turf that doesn’t come up. And, we’ve got the Indian head out there, which is nice.”
A.J. taking over
Speaking of Smith, he’s picked up right where he left off in the spring leading this offense.
“No big changes coming in from the spring,” Smith said. “It’s no added pressure, The only change is I’ll be playing more on Friday nights. Second string always gets a lot of reps, so they can be ready to get in on Friday nights. You never know what might happen.”
Despite not taking a snap yet in a varsity game, Smith has gotten plenty of recruiting interest, including an offer from Lamar. Smith’s primary backup will be sophomore Ky Walker, though he may play more on the JV team during the season to get more game experience.
“We’re going to try to play him on the JV and get (Ky) as much playing time as we can,” Faircloth said. “He’s going to be our quarterback of the future. He’s built exactly for what we do. It’s going to be a good couple of years starting next year with him around.”
The Versatile Mr. Clark
Kaleb Clark may be the fastest player on PN-G’s team this season. That’s one reason why he’ll be used all over the field this fall, including working back in on offense after establishing himself as a defensive stalwart in his junior season. He’s liked what he’s seen from this year’s defensive unit.
“They’re going better than I thought they were,” Clark said. “We’re working better than I expected, because we’ve got a lot of hotheads on this team. We’re coming together. We’re going to be pretty good on defense this year, better than I expected.”
Last season, Clark moved over to cornerback and became a staple of the secondary. He also worked in on special teams as a returner and will see some time at receiver too.
“You’ve got to work on getting in shape,” Clark said. “Playing five different positions isn’t going to be easy. Last year was my first year ever playing cornerback, so I was always a receiver. This is nothing new. It’s fun to see the faces I grew up with playing over there.”
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