Josh Neal admits it’s going to be a bit strange not being on the Denham Springs High coaching staff for the first time in 12 years.
Neal, who served as the school’s track coach, announced he was stepping down shortly after the season ended to take a job as the head football coach at Southside Junior High.
“The biggest thing is going to be trying to get a new wardrobe, because I’ve got 12 years of purple and gold stuff,” Neal joked. “Now I trade it in for the blue and grey.”
The move reunites Neal with Southside Principal Wes Partin as the duo coached together and played at DSHS. It will also allow Neal to spend more time with his family.
“It’s something that I couldn’t pass up, because I’d been offered it before, but really wasn’t ready to leave Denham,” Neal said. “I was still happy where I was. Not saying that I wasn’t happy now, but my kids are older. I’ll be able to spend more time with them then I would if I stayed (at DSHS).”
Neal also dealt with the deaths of his father and Denham Springs assistant coach Joey Chustz, who was a close friend, which he said also played a role in his decision to change jobs.
“It was a stressful year for me, and this will kind of give me a way to – I don’t want to say relax, because I’m not going to relax. That’s not how I am. I’m going to go at it full steam ahead, but I’ll be able to spend more time with my family.”
Neal guided the Yellow Jackets to a fourth-place finish at the Class 5A State Track and Field Meet last month.
“I think that’s our highest finish ever as a team at state,” Neal said. “I guess if I’m going to go out on a good note, that’s a good one to go out on.”
It’s Neal’s dedication that DSHS Principal Kelly Jones said helped build the program.
“It's is a huge loss for us -- for the football and track team, but specifically for the track program,” Jones said via text while out of town. “He fully committed himself to that program and took it to heights we haven't seen in recent history.”
While he’s leaving the track program, Neal said he’ll still have a hand in the DSHS football program, only from a distance.
“It’s not like I’m leaving Denham,” Neal said. “I’m going to be hopefully feeding the high school some guys that will be able to perform here at the next level whenever they get here.”
That’s exactly what Jones is counting on.
“From a football standpoint we will miss him but I know having him at the junior high to develop fundamental skills in that age group will ultimately benefit us at the high school level,” Jones said.
Neal also said he’ll be keeping a close eye on the current crop of Yellow Jackets as well.
“I’ll still come over there on Friday nights and cheer on the Yellow Jackets because I’ve still got kids out here that I coached,” Neal said. “I want to see them succeed. I’m a community guy and a Denham guy, and I’ll always pull for the Yellow Jackets. This way I’ll just have a little bit more time and be able to enjoy my kids growing up.”