Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 13, 2011



BOUTTE – There will be plenty of fresh faces patrolling the field at Hahnville this season.

The Tigers will have a total of 18 new starters when it opens its season at Jesuit on September 1 in a special Thursday night game. And after facing a Class 5A state quarterfinalist in the Blue Jays, the road gets no easier: Lutcher. St. Augustine. Higgins. And of course: archrivals East St. John and Destrehan.

In other words: the new look Tigers will have a baptism by fire. There isn’t much time to work out the kinks.

But coach Lou Valdin has been here before. The Jesuit game will mark the start of Valdin’s 10th season as Hahnville coach, and during his tenure the Tigers have been a staple — and more often than not a major factor — in the state playoffs.

Last season, his offense was led by quarterback Brian Ensminger. A year before that, it was tailback Alfred Blue as the undisputed bellcow.

With Ensminger gone to graduation, will someone step up to take that mantle in 2011?

“I hope!” Valdin exclaimed. “We’ve got two upper classman tailbacks and a senior fullback, and we’re going to have to rely on those guys while Easton comes along.”

Easton refers to Easton Melancon, the team’s first year starting quarterback. The junior should be able to rely on the strong running game Valdin seeks if history holds to form — the Tigers always seem to stock standouts in the running game — and Ernest Thompson and Travis Faucheux should leads the rushing charge behind a young offensive line and senior fullback Michael Ford.

When Melancon has been asked to make plays during the spring and the summer, he’s done well, said Valdin.

“He’s coming along,” said Valdin. “He’s making the right plays, and I don’t see him doing anything to hurt us. Easton’s very smart, he’s a leader, and we feel good about him as our quarterback.”

Valdin said that in addition to his smarts and his ability to move the ball through the air, Melancon can also move the chains with his legs.

“He ain’t Michael Vick,” said Valdin, “but he can run. He can do a little bit of everything.”

The offensive line will have to replace all but one starter along the offensive front, junior James Diggs the lone veteran.

Valdin sees potential, though, given what he’s seen from the unit already.

“I think he have a chance to be pretty good there,” he said. “We have to see it on the field in live action, though.”

Defensively, Hahnville’s strength comes in it’s secondary. The Tigers boast a group of big, physical and experienced defensive backs, including three that stand at 6-foot-1 or taller. One, senior Jerqwinick Sandolph, has drawn comparisons to former LSU standout and current Washington Redskins safety LaRon Landry — a comparison that hold even more water now as Sandolph has committed to LSU. He’ll be joined by Johnell Celistan and Tyren Hills.

“It allows you to play man-to-man,” said Valdin. “And when you can defend receivers one-on-one, when you can man everyone up, then you can commit more defenders to stopping the run. No question, that’s the strength of our defense.”

The coach said that the playcalling on both sides of the ball has been simplified due to the sheer number of new starters the team has to break in.

That breaking-in process, he hopes, will be taken care of by the time play rolls around in the new District 6-5A. Gone are East Ascension, Dutchtown and St. Amant. In their stead are John Ehret, Bonnabel and Higgins.

But remaining are the three River Parish stalwarts in 5A: Hahnville, Destrehan and East St. John. And Valdin believes his two local rivals have much to concern their opposition with.

“On paper, I think Destrehan looks like they’ve got the strongest bunch,” he said. “They lost some offensive lineman, but they’ve got all of their skill guys back and basically the entire defense. Then you look at East St. John. They’ve got the best player in the league in (quarterback Darion Monroe). Destrehan has the second best in (wide receiver Rickey) Jefferson.

“But we can only work on what we can control. We’re going to keep it simple and limit mistakes.”

Thursday marks the team’s first live action against another opponent. Hahnville and St. Charles Catholic will butt heads in a scrimmage hosted by Hahnville at 5 p.m. Then it’s on to St. James for the team’s jamboree clash a week later.

In both cases, Valdin said he’s looking for his team to play fundamentally sound football above all else.

“We want to do the little things right. Take the snap and execute, line up right defensively and avoid getting caught for the big play,” he said. “And it’s a chance to see your guys against another team, to see if they can handle the kind of physical play they’re going to get each week.”