Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 17, 2011



ST. JAMES — There were certainly be some noticeable differences in the style of play St. James employs on the gridiron this coming season — and those differences will be on full display in the team’s scrimmage at East St. John Thursday — as new head football coach James Bell takes over for the team’s longtime guiding force, Rick Gaille.

But Bell isn’t tossing the 2010 playbook in the fireplace, either.

Gaille’s vaunted Wing-T will no longer be the base of options A-through-Z, but Bell said that he and his staff will continue to run many of the same plays that this group of players, by-and-large, have come up learning over the last few years.

But at the same time, Bell wants to show more variety to opposing defensive coordinators. Predictability, he said, is the enemy.

“We’re not making wholesale changes. I’d say the best way to describe what we’re trying to do is, we’re refining our offense,” said Bell. “I believe in being multiple. We want to run the things these guys have run in the past, and do that well. But we don’t want teams to come in and just crowd the line of scrimmage.”

After counting themselves among the powers in Class 2A for an extended run (including a finish as state runner-up in 2007), the Wildcats struggled at times in each of the last two regular seasons in Class 3A. St. James fell in round one a year ago as the 22nd seed, and in the second round two years ago after pulling off an upset as the 26th seed.

St. James remains in Class 3A this year, but will have to hit the ground running to post its first winning mark since 2008. The Wildcats will begin regular season play against local rival West St. John, then will face off against Destrehan, Patterson and Vandebilt Catholic before rounding out district play at home against Assumption. Vandebilt and Patterson were top 10 seeds in their classification a year ago, while West St. John has taken two straight victories over SJH.

One reason for optimism comes at the quarterback position, where Shaquille Narcisse for the first time will enter the year as starter after taking over at midseason a year ago.

With Narcisse’s insertion into the starting lineup came a spark, one Bell hopes to see his team build on in 2011.

“When I talk about being multiple, really that’s what he is in a nutshell,” said Bell. “He can run the ball, he can throw the ball, he can pitch it on the option. When you present all those things, it puts stress on a defense. How to defend all of it. At the high school level, especially, it adds an extra dimension to your offense. It makes it tough on them.”

Narcisse will hand the ball off to a deep and talented stable of rushers. Bell noted Kenneth Armant and Larohn Cambre as a pair that have been standing out throughout the spring and the summer. Armant averaged nearly nine yards a carry a year ago, while Cambre averaged over five.

“Both of those guys had great years a season ago and we look for them to continue that,” said Bell.

The offensive line returns just one starter in Jeremy Morton, a 6-foot-2-inch guard. Morton, Bell said, is an extremely quick, versatile player who may see time on defense.

On that side of the ball, Seth Keller looks to build on a tremendous sophomore campaign. The linebacker will lead a youthful front seven. Joseph Winchester returns at cornerback, and Bell said he is intrigued to see how far his senior has progressed since last season. Intriguing is also a good word for Rashann Dennis, a sophomore who Bell believes could break out this season at cornerback or safety.

“He’s young, but my goodness!” Bell said. “Great speed, exceptional quickness … we’re not sure if we’ll need him at corner or safety just yet. But he’ll be somewhere out there.

Bell brings collegiate experience to the table, having been head coach at Jackson State and Taylor University in previous coaching stops.

He was most recently the coach of Drew Central High School in Arkansas. He’s also been an assistant coach at Indiana, Wake Forest, Louisville and North Texas — the latter school employing him as defensive coordinator.

He said his first months on the job have been everything he’s hoped.

“My wife is from Lake Charles and I recruited this area on the college level,” said Bell. “So I already felt good about the people here. And it’s been a very warm welcome. I’m just trying to meet and visit with as many people in the community as I can. All I can say is I’m very excited about being here.”