District title high on agenda for WSJ’s Rams

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 28, 2009


A year ago, West St. John was preparing for its first football season under new coach Robert Valdez. While the Rams didn’t make a repeat trip to the Superdome, their regular season output matched the previous year’s — rebounding off of a winless predistrict slate to capture an undefeated district championship.

Fast-forward to 2009, and a third straight district title is high on the agenda for fans in Edgard. But even for a team that hasn’t lost a district contest in over two years, a much rockier road awaits in 2009.

“Is our schedule supposed to get easier after predistrict?” asked Valdez. “Not a chance.”

Yes, most of the usual suspects return to District 9-1A — White Castle, Ascension Catholic, and East Iberville return to competition with West St. John.

But St. John-Plaquemine is back after a two-year hiatus. And then there’s Christian Life Academy — like WSJ two seasons ago, the Crusaders made it to the Class 1A championship game last season before falling to powerful South Plaquemines.

“St. John-Plaquemine is a good 2A program that was a couple of kids shy, and now drops to 1A,” said Valdez. “Then you have the returning state runner-ups. It’s a test for my kids. But competition brings out the best in people. And our kids look forward to the stage.”

His kids are a talented bunch, for sure. Dray Joseph enters his senior season, his fourth as starting quarterback.

He and middle linebacker/fullback Xavier Pierre will be team captains.

(Pierre) is just a plugger,” said Valdez. “He’s not one to say much, but he’ll lead you by the example he sets. Dray is the same way. These guys get the job done on the field, in the classroom, and show the kind of character we seek in all of our kids.”

Strength training has been emphasized this summer, says Valdez, due to the number of players who must play “both ways” offensively and defensively.

The coach also has actively seeking ways to exploit the mismatches made possible by the Rams’ overall team speed. Former linebackers coach Antoine Carter will step in for longtime defensive coordinator Elmo Boudreaux this season, who accepted a job with East St. John two weeks ago. Carter and the rest of Valdez’s defensive staff seek to put more linebackers and defensive backs on the field when possible, as opposed to the 4-3 and 4-4 alignments the team has employed in the past.

Those changes go along with similar ones that began a season ago offensively.

“Looking across the board, and this goes for high school, college and the pros, the game is getting faster,” said Valdez. “Your more successful programs are the ones that take advantage of their speed, and that give themselves a chance to be more effective and efficient.”

West St. John will scrimmage Lutcher on August 20.

A week later, it’s off to play Riverside for a jamboree contest.

Then the real bullets start to fly.

“Every time around this time, I get excited,” Valdez says. “We’re anxious to show what we can do.”