Despite recent upheaval, Rebels optimistic about season

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 31, 2009

By Ryan Arena

Only a week ago, Mickey Roussel was under the impression that he’d be offering a helping hand to the Riverside football program as an assistant coach, after taking a year off completely from the sidelines in 2008.

Little did he know that he’d be back in the saddle, running the show, before he knew it.

There’s been a tremendous amount of upheaval around the Rebels football program in the past week — head coach Tim Taffi was let go on Monday for discussing a potential assistant’s job at Destrehan, leading to Roussel’s return to the position he held for 19 years, through his retirement in 2007.

“I wouldn’t call it shock,” said Roussel about the way his team has handled the sudden transition less than a month before the season kicks off. “It’s been a pretty smooth transition. One thing I’ve learned is that kids today are a lot more resilient than the adults. We’re moving on.”

Perhaps lost to many, but certainly not to those kids, is that through the turmoil there is a football season just on the horizon. And for the Rebels, it’s a promising one at that.

Certainly, its spring game performance suggests great improvement. Riverside’s first team didn’t “punt” once at all in its 34-0 scrimmage victory against Grace King. Juxtaposed against a spring performance last season that saw King muster a 6-0 win, it suggests things are coming along just fine.

In reality, the shift began in the middle of last season. After a slow start, the Rebels revamped their offensive and defensive philosophies.

Roussel says that offense will remain intact behind the playcalling of offensive coordinator Britt Waguespack. In a twist, Roussel — who called offensive plays in his last tenure as head coach — will now oversee the defense.

“There will be no wholesale changes,” said Roussel. “Offensively, it’ll be 98-percent of what we’ve been doing. And defensively, I’ll tweak some things. I know what I’m comfortable with. But it’ll be largely the same.”

The second half of the 2008 season saw Riverside’s offense soar behind a spread offense highlighting the abilities of then-sophomore quarterback Darnell Rachal.

Rachal seems to have carried that success over.

“We knew that we’d be able to run the ball with he and (running back) Thomas Crouch,” said Roussel. “But the summer he’s had, the offseason work he’s done…he gives us a chance to do things through the air. We’ve got a shot to be really, really balanced. On Friday nights, if someone decides to take one thing away, we should be able to do the other successfully.”

Defensively, Riverside lacks a great number of seniors. But many of the unit’s younger players started or played extensively a season ago.

“We’ve got a lot of experience coming back, but we’re still young,” said Roussel. “Our junior class is huge in number, and also huge in talent. The next two to three years should be good to us.”

The Rebels will play in a large district this season. District 9-2A houses eight teams, and while St. James has moved up to 3A, Riverside sees its district rivalry with St. Charles resumed in the Wildcats’ stead.

Newman is still a factor.

And of course John Curtis is the district’s overwhelming favorite.

Roussel believes his team will be right in the thick of things.

“From what I’ve seen this summer,” he says, “I think we have the makings of a really, really good football team.”