Unbeaten Tarpons running strong to re-establish winning tradition

PORT ISABEL — The Port Isabel Tarpons believe they’ve surprised a lot of people who may have overlooked them coming into the season.

Through five weeks, the Tarpons are 4-0 and 1-0 in District 16-4A Division II — with three of those victories coming in consecutive road games. They’re the top rushing team in the Rio Grande Valley, accumulating more than 1,500 yards on the ground in their Slot-T offense and averaging 45 points per game with no intentions of slowing down.

Port Isabel debuted in the RGVSports.com poll this week in the No. 10 spot. The Tarpons are the only sub-5A team currently ranked. They have a good test coming up Friday when they play host to Raymondville (2-2, 0-1) at 7 p.m., and they’re ready to keep showing their potential.

“The kids have all bought in. They hang their hat on what we say, and they do it,” Port Isabel coach Tony Villarreal said. “Historically Raymondville has been very, very tough … so we’re excited about this opportunity. They have a championship bloodline and so do we, we just haven’t shown it the last five years. We’re re-establishing all that, so we’re going to play hard.”

Behind a sturdy offensive line, senior running back Gilbert Medina has paced the Tarpons’ offense, scoring 11 touchdowns and already rushing for more than 700 yards. He is enjoying carrying the lion’s share for Port Isabel but was quick to credit the guys up front for keeping him successful.

“It feels good being the main guy. A lot of responsibility, so I practice hard every day,” Medina said. “I feel very protected with my linemen. Without them, this wouldn’t be possible, us being the top rushing team in the Valley. It’s something crazy. It’s good knowing I have good blockers in front of me and I’m going to be able to do my thing without getting hurt. They work hard every practice and take care of their business.”

Port Isabel’s line is comprised of tight end Fernando Romero, strong tackle Timothy Martinez, strong guard Jayden Gonzalez, center Hassiel Aguilar, quick guard Steven Martinez and quick tackle Nathan Martinez.

Aguilar said knowing the snap counts, hitting their spots and pushing back defenders are some keys the O-line focuses on every day. The senior said it feels amazing to be undefeated and anchoring a line that guides one of the RGV’s top offenses. He praised his linemates, saying they deserve an A-plus grade for their efforts, and believes they’ll continue showing out against Raymondville.

“It hasn’t been like this for a few years. It’s honestly a blessing,” Aguilar said. “Our offense is very intense. We like hitting people in the mouth. We put it all on the field and it shows. … I expect a good fight, but we’re going to be ready, that’s for sure. They’re expecting P.I. from two years ago, but this ain’t P.I. from two years ago anymore.”

Villarreal credited Medina and the offensive line for sparking Port Isabel’s success since long before the season started as part of “The 15 Strong.”

“‘The 15 Strong,’ they’re the kids that were here for spring ball, in the summer and on Aug. 3. They believed in our offseason, in our strength and conditioning, our Slot-T. And it’s the offensive line and Gilbert. That’s been the core, that’s what started it,” Villarreal said.

Another key player for the Tarpons has been senior fullback/defensive back Derrin Valdez. Villarreal feels Valdez may be overlooked by outsiders, but his versatility is unmatched. He is clutch in short-yardage situations and handles the PAT duties. He’s part of a senior class that has a major impact on the team.

Last week’s 55-40 victory over Robstown was the closest game Port Isabel has played this season. Villarreal called it a good learning tool, giving the team its first chance to respond when playing from behind.

Now, as the Tarpons look forward to playing in front of their home crowd for the first time in more than one month, Medina wants everyone to know one important thing about the program.

“We’re back. The Tarpons are finally back,” Medina said. “Our team works hard. We’re confident. We’re playing some good teams (in district), but we can handle it.”