Rams on verge of adding to tradition

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 9, 2011



EDGARD — Tradition. Excellence. Pride.

These are all words that accurately describe West St. John and its football program. Few programs can boast the sustained level of success of West St. John. State championships. Numerous college stars and NFL standouts. Legendary coaches.

At the same time, few communities can say that they’ve embraced a program to the level that the people of Edgard and St. John Parish have embraced the Rams over the years. Edgard will likely resemble a ghost town on Friday afternoon, as at 3 p.m. the Rams (12-2) will kick off its clash with top-seeded Ouachita Christian (14-0) in the Class 1A championship game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

West St. John coach Robert Valdez noted that the school was already out of its ticket allotment by 1 p.m. on Monday, the fans hungry for their first Dome trip since 2007, the final season of coach Laury Dupont’s tenure at the school.

“We’re ready to see a lot of fans out there,” said linebacker and LSU commitment Ronnie Feist. “We’re looking forward to getting up there, having fun with our coaches and teammates, and hopefully taking it home.”

Said wide receiver and defensive back Jarius Moll: “We’ve expected this all season. Our first goal was to win district. After that, our eyes were on the Dome. We’ve stayed together all season. This is a family.”

Valdez stepped into some large shoes after that season, when he was named the school’s new head football coach and athletic director.

It was a rapid ascent for Valdez, who was an assistant at East St. John before being named head coach at McKinley for the 2007 season.

Still, Valdez was not naïve — he knew he was stepping into a situation where success was not hoped for, but expected.

He also knew that the Rams would not get to where they wanted to be overnight. Valdez brought a new system and new ideas, Dupont’s power-run based scheme giving way to a more spread-based offense that offers multiple ways of attacking.

But in the fourth season of his tenure, the fruits of Valdez’s system are in full bloom. And while change to any traditional power is often met with resistance, there are surely no complaints today — that will remain the case for a long time with a victory on Friday.

“(A win) just validates your program,” said Valdez. “There’s so much tradition, so much success here … for myself, you definitely want your program to be at that level by your third or fourth year.”

The last two weeks have proved the Rams to be a team that boasts a variety of tools in the box, one not limited to any one way of winning a game.

In the quarterfinals, just one offensive touchdown was scored over the first 43 minutes of play at Haynesville before the Rams saw the opposition tie the game at 8 on a fumble recovery in the endzone. Kylum Favorite became the hero though, as he got loose for a 30-yard touchdown run with a little over a minute to go; that left the Rams with a grind-it-out 15-8 victory.

“When things aren’t going as well for us, coach kind of leans on me to get us going,” said Favorite. “He’ll tell me that we’re putting in our ‘big’ package and that I’m gonna run it until they stop it.”

“Grind” in no way, shape or form described the team’s 54-41 semifinal win at Vermilion Catholic, one decided late in the fourth quarter.

Said Feist, “On a day we didn’t play as well, our offense stepped up. The week before, we did our job on defense. This weekend, we want to play well in all phases and put that complete game together.”

Two wins, on the road, against elite teams — neither resembling the other in style.

Ouachita Christian brings a powerful team to the Dome. It’s offense will challenge the Rams’ talented defense; Ouachita has scored 50 points or more eight times this season and topped 60 on three of those occasions. The team’s last five games have seen it win 61-6, 61-0, 41-27, 41-6 and 54-0, the most recent score coming against Mangham in the semifinal.

Only two teams have made a game of it against the Eagles, who were the 1A state runner-up a year ago when it fell to the Rams’ district foe White Castle: Franklin Parish, which it defeated 42-30; and Cedar Creek, which the Eagles felled 20-14.

Josh Greer paces the Eagles rushing attack. He ran for 96 yards in the team’s win over Mangham.

“They’ve got a big offensive line and a big defensive line. They want to run the ball, but they do a lot of things off play-action to mix you up,” said Valdez.

Ouachita Christian returned 17 starters this year from that state runner-up.

Ouachita Christian has three state titles to its program’s credit.

KBZE 105,9 FM radio will broadcast Friday’s Rams game live as it happens. The broadcast can also be found on www.KBZE.com.