Rams seek return to top

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 5, 2011



EDGARD – West St. John coach Robert Valdez has no illusions about what lies ahead of he and his team in October. The race for District 9-1A has been hotly contested between the Rams, St. John-Plaquemine and White Castle over the past two seasons and figures to be again, with the latter now carrying the status of “defending state champions” with them.

West St. John came up just short in two games against White Castle last season, including a 12-0 loss in the bi-district round of the postseason. Those were games that saw the Rams battle valiantly in holding the lethal Bulldogs offense to 24 combined points (White Castle was held under 34 points just one other time in the regular season and topped 40 points six times), but the youngest and most inexperienced offense of the Valdez era came up largely empty against a veteran White Castle defensive unit.

But the good thing about young, inexperienced players is that, eventually, they become experienced veterans. And after a strong summer that included an impressive run of 7-on-7 play in various passing tournaments, West St. John appears poised to rise again in Class 1A behind a dominant rushing attack, a smothering defense, and a promising passing game.

Usually at West St. John, it starts with defense, and Valdez asserts that nothing has changed there.

“We play our best 11 on defense,” Valdez said. “That’s our philosophy. It starts with limiting the other team’s scoring opportunities.”

Ronnie Feist was L’Observateur’s Defensive MVP in St. John Parish last season as a junior and he looks to cap his career with an even more impressive senior season. Feist committed to LSU earlier this year at the school’s Junior Day, something that Valdez said hardly has the defensive end resting on his laurels.

“There’s been no complacency,” said Valdez. “No letdown. Ronnie just wills himself to keep improving.”

A game-changer on defense could be the return of linebacker Dontre Turner. Turner was injured last season in West St. John’s opening day win over St. James and wouldn’t return until the postseason.

“Everyone is going to account for Ronnie, and Dontre is going to present a major problem when that happens,” said Valdez. “We’re expecting tremendous things from him this year.”

Steven Brignac returns at defensive tackle to help establish a push up the middle. Justin Bethancourt, Jarius Moll and Lawrence Williams will be key factors as returning starters in the secondary.

A season ago at this time, Jeremy Jackson was an eighth grader backing up the tailback position. Valdez touted him as having a chance top be special in the long run — that long run (and, in fact, many long runs) came quickly as Jackson took over lead rushing duties and began his career with a string of 100-yard games.

“He’s got tremendous speed and quickness. And he’s a guy who puts in a lot of work to get better,” said Valdez. “You love to have a kid like him. When he gets the ball, it could be a big play, but he’s also very consistent. You can count on him to fight for extra yards and get you three or four at least on first down.”

Fellow tailback Kylum Favorite will compliment him in what figures to be a proficient rushing attack that will be the base of the team’s offense.

Jackson and Favorite success will help take the pressure off of Austin Howard, the team’s sophomore quarterback who Valdez said has come a long way from his freshman season. Howard began last season as the team’s starter before giving way to transfer Mark Wright, a senior who came on strong to end the season. But Howard was still being groomed to take over as the team’s passer, and this summer he flashed his considerable ability in 7-on-7’s, including the Rams’ championship victory in June at the ULL 7-on-7 Shootout.

“We’ve simplified our scheme and done some things that we feel like gives Austin a chance to be very, very effective. He’s been very successful reading coverages and getting the ball out quickly. We won’t be a total air raid, but we have some great athletes here, and we want them to have chances to make plays.

His top target will be the dynamic Jarius Moll, coming off of two strong seasons as the team’s leading receiver. He’ll be joined by Lawrence Williams — both will play two ways, helping to lead the secondary on the defensive side.

Up front, Willie Youngblood is the lone senior on an offensive line that boasts four sophomores (Jermoine Nora, Koi Rainey, Marvin Pierre and Laron Washington). That units’ success. Valdez said, will be the ultimate key in determining whether the Rams’ will have a special season.