STEPHEN HEMELT — Mississippi State offensive coordinator reflects of SETX roots

Published 12:18 am Saturday, January 21, 2023

High school football is special in Orange County and across Southeast Texas.

West Orange-Stark High can claim what few others in the state can as far as history, evidenced by recent coaching legend retiree Cornel Thompson, who is getting inducted into the Southeast Texas Coaches’ Hall of Fame.

Thompson posted a mind-boggling 129-22 record as head coach from 2011-2021 for an astonishing .854 winning percentage. The Mustangs outscored their opponents 5,587 (37.0 points a game) to 1,688 (11.2 points a game) during his tenure.

How about the success of the past two seasons for Orangefield and Little Cypress-Mauriceville, where strong regular seasons have been followed by playoff victories.

The blood, sweat and tears given in pursuit of Friday Night glory stays with so many long after seasons and careers are finished.

Orange Newsmedia was lucky this week to speak with Kevin Barbay, a Southeast Texas football graduate with family and coaching ties across Texas, Louisiana and beyond.

He recently accepted the offensive coordinator position at Mississippi State and took some time to talk about his memories of local football and his journey to the SEC.

“Absolutely.”

That is how Barbay answered if Mid County Madness and the rivalry between Nederland and Port Neches-Groves stays with him.

As a former quarterback for the Nederland Bulldogs, it’s not surprising. What is cool is to hear the intensity in Barbay’s voice pick up about high school football three days after he accepted a dream job of sorts —play caller for Mississippi State.

“Mid County Madness is the greatest rivalry in all of America,” Barbay said matter of factly. “I tell everybody. It really is. It’s not because there is some huge stadium or tons of Division I athletes; it’s about the passion and people in that rivalry. Both sides are diehard fan bases.

“Unfortunately, it is the same way in my house, because my wife is (a PNG) Indian. We have Mid County Madness every year in my house and make sure it is on the TV. We follow it closely. Our kids don’t know what to think. Every year is depends on if they are happy or mad at Dad as to who they are going to pick (to root for).”

Barbay said he has seen high school football across the United States and has recruited “everywhere.”

The PNG-Nederland rivalry, because he got to be such a big part of it, is very unique.

“At the end of the day, the Nederland and Port Neches people are the same people,” he says. “It’s the passion both schools feel about their school, their fan base, their organizations. There is not another one like it; I can promise you.”

Barbay was an absolute blast to speak with this week and is easy to pull for on Saturdays.

His passion is evident and the success is easy to see.

Just this past year, he was part of an Appalachian State coaching staff that shocked college football when the Mountaineers went into College Station and defeated Texas A&M.

“That game was something that was very special, being I’m from Texas,” he said. “My wife was an Aggie and my sister was an Aggie. I have three nieces that were in school at A&M. I had a bunch of Texas high school coaches come to the game to see the Mountaineers. It was something that was really special for our kids to get the opportunity to beat the No. 6 team in the country.”

Barbay says Mississippi State and it’s home city of Starkville are special and school-focused.

“There is not a lot there, and the people take such pride in the football team. Everything is really centered around the university. It’s a special place with a passionate fan base. I’m just grateful and excited to get the opportunity to call an offense that is the SEC.”

Barbay graduated from Lamar University in 2005 with a degree in exercise science and fitness management.

He and wife Kacie have three children: Kynslie, Karoline and Karson.

Stephen Hemelt is the publisher at Orange Newsmedia, which produces the Orange Leader and orangeleader.com. He can be reached at stephen.hemelt@orangeleader.com.