By Gaige Davila
The Port Isabel Tarpons will have a football season, albeit a short one, after months of planning, replanning, uncertainty, and, ultimately, concern.
“You always want to err on the side of safety,” Port Isabel Head Football Coach and Athletic Director Tony Villarreal told the PRESS. “Because of the virus and it being airborne, I think every coach in the state has to err on safety.”
The Tarpons are set to play PSJA at home next Friday for the team’s first and only regular game of the season. The week after, against Raymondville, will be the lone district game. The winner advances to the No. 3 seed in the district.
The schedule comes after several meetings between PI-ISD, the University Interscholastic League (UIL), and head football coaches across District 16-4A Division II. In September, Point Isabel Independent School District (PI-ISD) announced that fall sports would not start until Oct. 12, as COVID-19 cases continued rising in Cameron County and across the state.
Now, in Cameron County, as of this article’s posting, daily positive case confirmations are starting to decrease.
Regardless, the Tarpons are practicing with masks on, face shields on their helmets, and drinking water from individual water bottles, in what Villarreal is calling a three-layer approach to safety within the team.
In-person practices started on Oct. 12, with the Tarpons now training in full pads after just helmets and shorts the week prior. But before then, since Aug. 3, players worked out at home and met with Villarreal and the coaching staff over Zoom. The Tarpons are still meeting over Zoom during their athletic period and have been doing so since the school year.
“I kind of relate this to being in August, like two-a-days,” Villarreal said of the practices.
The two-a-days of yesteryear are remarkably tame compared to the COVID-19 variant of this year, with safety and hygiene guidelines paramount to the Tarpon program’s success.
“It’s so difficult, you don’t know if it’s right or wrong you’re just trying to do the best you can with the variables you have,” Villarreal said. “We’re doing everything we can.”
Players and coaching staff have to self-assess their temperature through the Dr. Owl smartphone app before practice, another layer to the Tarpon program’s safety guidelines. Any person with a temperature over 99.9 is barred from entering practice or, come next Friday, Tarpon Stadium.
On Thursday, the Tarpons will play an inter-squad game, with only parents allowed. But fans will have a chance to watch the Tarpons’ first game on a first-come, first-served basis, Villarreal said. A criteria system will be applied, with players’ families and season-ticket holders getting special consideration. Seating will likely be arranged through a color-coded system, with color-specific entrances, seating sections and exits. Ideally, the details of the attendance policy will be posted by Monday, Oct. 26, Villarreal said.
Several returning starters will make their senior season debut next Friday, including Joey Krieghbaum, quarterback; Fabien Oceguera, guard; Aaron Villarreal, middle linebacker; and David Rosales, defensive end and middle linebacker, all of whom, Villarreal says, are standout players.
“He’s been a tremendous leader, without a doubt,” Villarreal said of Krieghbaum. “Those four are clearly outstanding. There’s a lot of good kids.”
Catch the Tarpons at Tarpon Stadium at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 30 against PSJA. On Nov. 6, the Tarpons face Raymondville at Tarpon Stadium at 7:30 p.m.