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New faces at Portal
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New Portal head football coach David NeSmith (far right) stands with (left to right) PHS assistant principal Stephen Hoyle, new football assistant coach Josh Thompson and new Portal principal Shawn Haralson Thursday at a press conference announcing the new Portal football staff and the new principal, Haralson, who replaces recently-retired principal Jimmy Parrish.

    PORTAL — The Portal Panthers hope to get their football program back on track this season as David NeSmith was announced as the new head coach Thursday at a press conference in the Portal High School media center.
    NeSmith comes to the Panthers after serving as an assistant coach at Statesboro since the 2004 season.
    Now, NeSmith is tasked with turning around a program that hasn’t punched a ticket to the state playoffs since the 2005 season.
    “It’s new and exciting, but it’s also a big challenge,” said NeSmith. “I don’t think anyone is expecting it to be easy, but we’re going to set about building a program here that can contend and win each year.”
    One of the biggest challenges for NeSmith and the Panthers comes with the timing of the coaching change.
    While other schools around the area have been hitting the sleds and preparing for the upcoming season, Portal players have been waiting to find out who would lead them into the 2011 campaign after the release of Cherard Freeman, who went 3-7 in his first and only season as head coach of the Panthers last year.
    As the third head coach in as many seasons, getting the team to rally around the new coaching staff will be just as important as preparing for another run through the gauntlet that is Region 3-A.
    “Obviously, getting to spend time with the players and coming together as a team is very important,” said NeSmith. “I don’t want to say that our backs are against the wall, but having to start things in the middle of spring is a challenge. We have a plan to get things in place and work hard over the summer to get where we need to be.”
    While this will be NeSmith’s first stint as a head coach at the high school level, he does have a wealth of experience in his career, heading the coaching staff at Glennville Elementary/Middle School from 1995-97 and guiding William James Middle School as defensive coordinator from 1998-99 before taking over the head coaching position from 2000 until his move to Statesboro.
    “I have a lot of faith in David and the rest of the coaching staff,” said Shawn Haralson, who was introduced as the new principal of Portal during the press conference. “I know that they will bring the hard work and commitment necessary to make our football program something to be admired.”
    In addition to his resume on the football field, NeSmith has also built a reputation for making his players bigger and stronger.
    He instituted a weightlifting program during his time at Glennville and this past winter, the Statesboro weightlifting team — under NeSmith’s guidance — won the overall state title.
    “We’re going to get busy in the weight room,” said NeSmith. “We’re going to put in the work that’s necessary to get us where we need to be. We’re going to build some good athletes here at Portal, but more importantly, we’re going to build some good men.”

    Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.