St. James looks to ‘finish’

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 14, 2010



ST. JAMES — “Finish Strong” was the New Orleans Saints mantra in 2009, and everyone saw the result. That phrase also describes the focus of St. James’ offseason, and coach Rick Gaille hopes similar good fortune will fall upon his team.

The Wildcats finished 4-8 a year ago, bowing out of the second round of the Class 3A playoffs. It was a down season for what has been a powerful program under Gaille, a season that could have seen a rosier record had the team held onto leads — four losses came after St. James blew a second half lead.

“We couldn’t finish the deal,” said Gaille.

Those losses drive the focus of Gaille, his staff, and his team.

“We stress the importance of fighting through,” said Gaille. “Fight through the heat. Fight through distractions. Fight through bad plays. It all makes you tougher in key situations.”

While the Wildcats had a down year, it made preparing for Gaille’s Wing-T offense no less ulcer inducing for defensive coaches. Again, the misdirection-based rushing attack looks to be a powerful advantage led by a stable of tailbacks with big play capability. Kenneth Armant and LeRohn Cambre are returning starters, while Junior Champagne and Lester Verrett will each see more time this season.

“The beauty of our running back corps is those runners bring game breaking speed, but are also accomplished receivers,” said Gaille. “It opens up what we can do.”

The quarterback position is unsettled, but not for lack of options. Gaille has a junior pocket passer in Ben Falgoust and a speedy playmaker in sophomore Shaquille Narcisse.

“Their development is crucial,” said Gaille. “In our offense, everyone needs to see the ball. You have to know where to get it and how to get it to them. We thrive on balance and taking what the defense gives us.”

In the passing game, their top target will again be the 6-foot-3, 200 pound Alonzo Lewis, who also brings his athleticism and range to the defensive side. The once-outstanding cornerback will move to safety, where Gaille and new defensive coordinator Shane Klibert hope he makes passing a nightmare for opposing offenses.

He, along with middle linebacker Christian Verrett, defensive end Jesseon Bannister and cornerback Roman Broden should lead the defense as returning starters.

St. James again has a tough road ahead in terms of schedule—it seems no River Parishes team ever schedules down—and it starts with the rivalry game at West St. John, in which the Wildcats will seek payback for an opening loss on its own field a year ago.

Once district comes, Gaille sees Brusly as a major challenge, and believes a now-healthy Livonia to be another stout threat.

But the true challenge comes in the depth of District 8-3A, he says. Gaille believes the district could send five teams to the postseason.

“I think there’s a very good chance of that,” he said. “It should be wide open.”

St. James has to navigate that minefield at the end of the regular season, putting its new mantra to the ultimate test.