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Wildcats’ defense leading surprising run to the playoffs

MICHAEL KIRAL / L’Observateur / November 4, 1998

RESERVE – With the loss of their quarterback, running back, top receiver and top offensive lineman as well as a change in head coaches, many predicted that the East St. John Wildcats would finish in the second halfof District 6-5A this season.

But heading into the last week of the season, the Wildcats are 6-2 overall and in second place in District 6-5A with a 4-2 record. East St. John canclinch second place, and depending on events elsewhere, may be able to win the district title with a victory at home against Thibodaux Friday night.

To find out why the Wildcats are in the position to make their third straight playoff appearance, one only has to look at the play of the defense this season. The Wildcats have allowed only 99 points through eightgames, an average of 12.3 points per game. Only once this season, againstH.L. Bourgeois, has the defense allowed as many as 16 points in a contest. Exceptional for any team, but especially impressive for a team learning a new system under a new defensive coordinator this season.

That new coordinator is Amos Jones, who has coaching experience at each level of the sport. Jones played at Alabama and later went on to coachwith the Crimson Tide, Temple, Pittsburgh and Tulane as well as high schools in Birmingham and in Florida.

Jones comes to the Wildcats from British Columbia of the Canadian Football League where he coached last year after spending two seasons at Tulane under Buddy Teevens.

Jones said that East St. John has an advantage over some of the schoolsthat he coached at in that it has been a state champion in the past. Beingfrom Alabama, he said he knows what tradition is all about, pointing to a talk that Wildcats head coach Ronnie Stephens made to the players before the season in which he said it is better to be at a school that has already won a state championship.

Jones said he was impressed with the amount of work the players had put in during the summer.

“We didn’t have to teach a work ethic when we got here,” Jones said. “Itwas already waiting for us.”Jones put in a new system, the pro 4-3 that was used at Tulane while he was there. Jones talked to the players about the system, telling that itwas what they see when they watch a game on Saturday or Sunday, so that the players were better able to relate to it.

Jones said that the defense is still undergoing growing pains and is looking to play a perfect game while learning the system.

“I would rather have a mistake made while going full speed than having a kid out there guessing what to do.”Jones said it has been the players that have been the key to the success of the defense so far.

“The players make the plays,” Jones said. “The cover guys cover and therush guys rush. Those are built in characteristics.”Senior inside linebacker Samson Monica returned the compliment, saying that the play calling has been a factor. Monica said the new system callsfor extra safety in the game and one less lineman and is a read defense. Asfor his position, Monica said he plays mostly against the run, especially up the middle.

Unlike last year, when the offense got all the attention with the likes of Franklin McKinnis, Juan Reese, Kerry Watkins and Corey Sewell, the defense is turning heads this season.

“The offense got a lot of attention last year,” Monica said. “After thegame now, people tell us how the defense is playing. We are playing as ateam but we are helping lead it. It makes you feel good.”Senior outside linebacker Matt Roussel agreed, saying that the defense knew coming into the season that it would step up a lot more.

“The defense knew what it had to do,” Roussel said. “We have to step onthe field and do it.”Jones said there was more pressure on the defense not to give up the big plays coming into the season.

“We knew losing that many players on offense, that we would have to hold people to as few points as possible,” Jones said.

Jones said the defense can also help the offense out by creating turnovers, something that it has been successful with this season, and he stresses to the defense that it can turn those turnovers into points themselves.

“Scooping and scoring, getting interceptions, we practice that situation every week,” Jones said.

Senior defensive back Tran Collins agreed.

“On defense, we knew we had to step up and win games on defense,” Collins said. “We had to slow people down and give the offense the ball asmany times as we can.”Not that the offense has been struggling this season. Floyd Smith is theleading passer in the River Parishes with over 1,200 yards passing, and Roydel Williams and Chris Bush are among the top receivers in the district. Senior defensive tackle Myer Irvin said going against that offensehelps the defense prepare better.

“Offensively, we are a great passing team,” Irvin said. “Smith andWilliams makes us practice harder and make us better on Friday nights.”Jones is assisted by secondary coach David Guillot, linebackers coach Eric Zammit, defensive ends coach Wayne Grenfell and defensive tackles coach Dan Erwin.

Joining Monica, Roussel, Irvin and Collins are defensive tackle Greg Gathers, defensive ends Edward Campbell and Rashad Williams, outside linebacker Jon Moll, cornerback Brandon Mason and safeties Samuel Davenport and Charles Rayfield. Emmanuel Albert, Emmanuel Miles andDonald Jones also see action.

Amos Jones said the coaches try to make sure 18-19 players are ready for a game. So far, the Wildcats have had one player, defensive lineman TranWilliams, miss time due to an injury.

The defense will look to continue to step up its play this week against Thibodaux and into the playoffs, and continue to make the Wildcats one of the surprise teams of the season.

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