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PORT ISABEL — Entering the 31st year of his career, Port Isabel head coach Tony Villarreal has not had a bad third year, in fact they have been really successful seasons.
This is technically Villarreal’s fourth season, but the canceled COVID-19 season does not count for Villarreal or the Tarpon players. Port Isabel enters its third full season in Villarreal’s second stint with optimism and is the top-ranked sub-5A team in the Rio Grande Valley.
Villarreal took over a strong Port Isabel team during his first spell. The Tarpons had not compiled a losing record from 1973 to when Villarreal took over in 1990.
Villarreal’s third-year success was more likely in the early ’90s than the success he had when he took over Brownsville Hanna, Weslaco High and then Port Isabel again.
Villarreal inherited a 1-9 Brownsville Hanna squad, a 2-8 Weslaco High club and a 3-7 Tarpons team. The Eagles went 8-3 and the Panthers went 10-3 in their third year under Villarreal.
Things start clicking in Villarreal’s Slot-T offense during the third and fourth years, even though there are chances for success from the start in the simple-yet-effective base offense that Villarreal utilizes.
“We brought in a couple of new coaches, we had some openings, and they were saying, ‘Golly, these kids have a high football IQ,’” Villarreal said.
Villarreal explained to the new coaches that because of the COVID season there has only been one team.
“We didn’t have a freshman schedule that first year,” Villarreal said. “They were the scout team listening to the vernacular and the adjustments, so it has really been a perfect storm for success.”
The Tarpons’ experience helps them afford the ability to focus on situational football instead of having to hammer down basics, Villarreal said.
Port Isabel has high expectations because of that experience.
“At least the third, fourth round,” Tarpons tailback Andrew LeBlanc said. “That is the goal, to make a deep playoff run.”
LeBlanc, Tristian Garcia, Evan Galvan and Kevin Morales are seniors – and leaders – who could make an impact on both sides of the ball for a team that has a solid foundation of juniors.
Morales could be the quarterback but is in a battle for the spot. Morales is comfortable under center after having been in the backfield in previous seasons.
“I know all the plays and all the things you need to do for those plays,” Morales said.
Garcia is the fullback, and in Villarreal’s system the fullback receives plenty of volume and his touches are essential for the misdirection to work.
“Since my sophomore year until now, our offense’s speed and tempo has increased dramatically,” Garcia said.
Galvan, a safety on defense and a tailback on offense, is ready for the pressure placed on the team.
“We have built this up from where we used to be,” Galvan said. “With Coach Tony coming in, we are used to it now, his expectations and the staff’s expectations on us. We just have to win now.”
The Tarpons open the season at 7 p.m. Thursday at Lyford.