Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 10, 2011



LAPLACE – The last time St. Charles made the move to Class 3A, the Comets were coming off of back-to-back appearances in the state championship game, finishing as state runner-up each time and cementing itself as a state power.

That was 2007. And 2011 paints a similar picture.

The Comets reached the state semifinals in each of the last two seasons in 2A, falling once to Curtis and once to Evangel — the same road blocks that have doomed every 2A team in recent memory besides, well … Curtis and Evangel.

Moving back to 3A does remove those teams from the equation. But as Comets coach Frank Monica warns, that comes with a tradeoff.

“2A is very top-heavy. But in 3A, the depth is so great … I don’t think you’ll see a lot of difference between teams once the top 32 are left in the playoffs,” said Monica. “It’s just a very balanced class.”

SCC’s last two playoff visits in 3A came to an end in the regional round, as the Comets bowed out to Lutcher and Redemptorist respectively.

But while SCC had a scant few starters returning a year ago before its rise to the state semifinal, the Comets boast a lot of returning firepower this season, giving their fans reason to believe that greater things are ahead.

It starts at quarterback, where for the first time in five seasons, SCC will return an incumbent starter. Donnie Savoie had a firm handle on Monica’s offense as a first-year starter in his junior season, and the coach said that he’s only improved in a year’s time.

“It’s a relief,” Monica said of having a returning passer. “You don’t have to break in a brand new guy now. (Savoie) has played 15 games, including the jamboree last year. What he lacks in arm strength he makes up for in his read progression, and his knowledge of what to do. That’s an asset that he brings, knowing this offense inside and out.”

SCC is even more experienced at running back, where for the third straight season, the Comets will have a “Thunder and Lightning” style attack behind Marcus Hall and Lazedrick Thompson.

For all intents and purposes, St. Charles boasts two starting tailbacks. Hall is the more explosive one, a fast and shifty multi-dimensional threat who accounted for over 30 touchdowns last season as a rusher, receiver and returner. Thompson, a Tulane commitment is the between the tackles hammer, his 6-foot-1-inch, 205-pound frame a compliment to his smaller counterpart in Hall (5-foot-8, 160 pounds).

“We’ve got a couple of quality guys back there,” said Monica. “Now, we’ve just got to find some guys to block for them.”

Monica’s allusion to his offensive line brings to light the fact that this unit must replace three starting lineman and a tight end from last season. The Comets bring back two starters on the line, junior Hunter Specht and Gabriel Alarcon.

“Everyone else is relatively new,” Monica said. “But we’ve also got some talent and ability there. We just have to get it out of them. And we’ve got to move quickly with that, the way our schedule is.”

At wide receiver, the Comets also will be breaking in a number of new targets, as Savoie’s top target out there from a season ago — Jeffrey Hall — has made the move to defensive back. That, Monica notes, came by necessity. The St. Charles secondary must be almost entirely rebuilt. Hall and the returning Macky Cortez should anchor that unit, while another returning starter — Ross Authement — moves to defensive back after starting at end a year ago.

Hall will almost assuredly see time at wide receiver during the season. But the first priority, Monica said, is stabilizing the defense, something Hall will be key in.

“Even in this era of wide open offense, I still believe you win with defense, with field position,” Monica said. “The game has changed from the standpoint of X’s and O’s, but it’s still starts with blocking and tackling. That will never change.”

The returning leader of the defense is senior end LaJaylin Smith. Smith had a strong junior season and will be the centerpiece of a front seven that Monica believes can be even better than last season’s strong unit.

“(Smith) has started since the eighth grade and we’re hoping he has his type of year. He’s been very strong for us,” said Monica. “Taylor Cochran is another guy on our line who we’re counting on. He’s a solid 300 pound guy and we need him to anchor against the run.”

Nick Montagut led the linebacking unit last season in tackling. He’s back, as is Dante Scarpero and Luke Jackson. The first is a senior, the latter two are juniors.

The Comets’ district lacks the nemesis Patriots and local archrival Riverside, but it looks to be devoid of easy matchups. Donaldsonville is expected to be a heavy hitter in 2A. St. Charles will renew its rivalry with St. James this season. The Wildcats, Port Allen and E.D. White were all 3A playoff teams last season (E.D. White a quarterfinalist). Brusly finished 3-7, but played like they belonged with several playoff squads, losing by exactly a touchdown in district clashes with St. James, Livonia and Port Allen.

The Comet schedule kicks off with a trip to Florida to face Tate High School. A road game with Vandebilt Catholic follows, and Northshore then awaits as the home opener. Throw in a jamboree clash with East St. John and the Comets will be playing up in classification in all four games in their first month of action, despite the move to 3A.

It all begins on August 26, as the St. John Parish portion of the Ed Reed Jamboree this year moves to St. Charles. Monica hopes to see his team reach “another level” before that time.

“I think we can get there,” said Monica. “Right now, what we need to focus on is the difference between spending time on something and investing time in it. Making it count. Over the offseason I think we did some things well, but I’m not sure how much we got out of some other things. We have positive expectations this year, but we still have a lot of holes to fill and a lot of room for improvement.”