As practice starts, lots to watch for local teams

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 29, 2008


Sports Editor

This week, we see the calendar turn from July to August. As it turns, so does the attention of prep sports fans, coaches and athletes – it’s time to play some football.

The live rounds won’t begin to fire for another month, as the regular season for our local teams begins on Sept. 5. But this week, teams have been returning to school for their fall camps, meaning the seeds are being fully planted for the competition ahead.

And there are a number of storylines to watch in the coming weeks. Here, we examine a few.

KEY COMPETITION – While the offense saw its points production fall off, what was perhaps lost on some observers of East St. John last season was the long strides it made on the defensive side of the football. That unit was the backbone of the team’s 4-1 record in district play.

If the offense can return to the spectacular form of 2006, or close to it, the Wildcats will be a serious factor in the race for the 5-5A crown this season. All-State running back Alex Singleton largely carried an offense last season that struggled in the passing game, and the focus this summer will be on restoring the balance that was the hallmark of Dauterive’s offense in years past.

Quarterbacks Andre Millet and Kalen Henderson have competed for the reins this summer, and should continue to do so in the coming weeks. Millet was a boon for the Wildcats after taking over for Henderson late last season. But Henderson has impressed at the team’s spring scrimmage and passing camp. Whether one (or both) emerges to give the team an aerial threat will be a major determining factor in how far this team goes in December.

RESTOCKING THE SKILL POSITIONS: Gone from St. Charles Catholic are quarterback Vincent Rollo and running back Jonathan Cancienne, the team’s two top offensive weapons. Each was named to the L’Observateur All-Parish team, after combining for 3,000 yards of offense. Each will need to be replaced.

Junior quarterback Marc Picciola has garnered praise from SCC Coach Frank Monica for his grasp of the team’s offense. So has running back Courtland Taylor, who the team got an extended look at late last season after an injury to Cancienne.  

Taylor started at fullback last season, but will be entering his first season as the team’s feature back. Both he and Picciola will be counted on to produce early and stay healthy – the Comets lack experienced depth at both positions. The summer should provide a glimpse into how each is progressing.

SPREADING THEIR ‘WING’S – St. James won’t be the only team in District 10-2A in operating the Wing-T offense. Riverside Coach Tim Taffi, taking over for longtime coach Mickey Roussel, has built Riverside’s offensive game plan will now revolve around the offense, which will attempt to put stress on defenses by spreading the ball around to a number of different rushing threats.

Like St. Charles, Riverside loses an All-Parish player at quarterback and running back in Jade Falgoust and Jarid Caesar, so the transition to a new offense will also include a number of brand new faces in key positions, including a stable of competing rushers and new quarterback Bobby Smith.

Last season, Riverside started the year fast, going 4-0 over the seasons first month. The team must pick up the offense quickly this summer to replicate that success.

FRESH START – West St. John almost completed a dream season last year, winning nine straight games to finish the season before losing in the Class 1A state championship game to South Plaquemines.

Perhaps most impressive about the Rams’ run was the way it occurred. Then-WSJ Coach Laury Dupont entered the season sitting on victory 199, and wouldn’t win #200 until week six. But once he did, he wouldn’t lose again until his team reached the Superdome, a fitting way for the veteran coach to ride into retirement.

If those seem like big shoes to fill for new coach Robert Valdez, it’s because they are. But Valdez took over a rebuilding project in his last job at McKinley, and helped build it into respectability. Here, he gets a ready-made contender.

Valdez says he doesn’t intend to “reinvent the wheel” with his new team. But in any period of transition, a learning curve must be expected. More downfield passing is expected to be part of the plan, and that will require timing between quarterback Dray Joseph and his receivers.  

Like with Riverside and their new offense, the team’s progress this summer will dictate how fast the Rams get out the blocks this season – even if the team survived an 0-5 start a season ago, it’s doubtful that Valdez or any of the Rams want to attempt to do so again.