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Football wrap-up: Portal

    Portal head coach Justin Chester couldn't have phrased it any better.
    "It was definitely a roller-coaster of a season," said the first-year head coach.
    The Panthers started the season losing their first five games, extending their losing streak to eight games dating back to 2005. With half the season over and an 0-1 record in region 3-A, PHS was in grave danger of missing the playoffs.
    Then Portal won four of its last five games, qualifying for the state tournament for the third year in a row and finishing in third place in the region.
    "We're excited about that," said Chester. "But my vision for this program is to not just make the playoffs. We've got to get to the point up here in Portal, psychology wise, to understand that once you get in the playoffs you have to catch another gear and you've got to want it even more to play into December."
    For the third straight year the Panthers made an early exit from postseason play.
    However, 2006, was different, as this Panther team had to fight its way in, as opposed to years past when Portal had clinched a playoff spot weeks before the end of the season.
    Those teams were coached by Pat Collins (now running things at Screven County) and Chester said part of the reason for a slow start this season may have been the coaching change.
    "At the beginning of the year, we were not real close," said Chester. "It took a few weeks for my philosophy and my system to set upon these guys and once that did things got better."
    The Panthers had a week off after that 0-5 start, and Chester noticed that’s where things started to turn for the positive. Portal came back that week and beat Bryan County and Claxton the next week. Chester thought the Claxton game may have been the Panthers best effort of the year.
    Portal graduates 14 seniors from this year's squad and will only have nine starters returning in 2007. Gone are quarterback Brandon Mock, running back Clayton Williams, wide receiver Fred Williams and most of the offensive line. With Chester's system firmly in place, he said there's still plenty to work on in the offseason.
    "4-7 is a losing season, no matter how you look at it," Chester said. "We need a working-to-win attitude. It's easy to start working toward a region championship in mid-July, but we need to start working on that in January. Football's a year round commitment."
    Speaking of a year-round commitment, how did Chester enjoy his first year as a head coach?
    "I loved every bit of it," he said. "I love the afternoons coming down here and watching young men get better, watching them bond and become a family."

    Chad Bishop can be reached at (912-489-9404.

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