West St. John football springs into action
Published 11:45 pm Friday, May 16, 2014
By RYAN ARENA
EDGARD — “You’re gonna keep hearing that word,” said West St. John coach Robert Valdez at the conclusion of his team’s practice Thursday.
That word was physicality, something Ram tailbacks Bradley Borne and Lamore Boudoin each emphasized after drills were through.
“Practices have been getting more physical (every day),” Borne said, a junior. “We’re really getting on each other out here, offense and defense. We want to challenge one another.”
Added Boudoin, “We’re getting physically ready out here. We wanna take it to people.”
West St. John has a week to prepare for its spring game, when the Rams face off next Saturday against Southern Lab.
Like last season, West St. John finds itself dealing with a lot of starting lineup turnover on one side of the ball. Last year, the defense had to reload. This season, the offense must do so behind a youth movement, with just two seniors projected to start.
Unlike last season; however, the Rams will not have the comfort of knowing that its primary offensive producers were the program’s longtime bellcows. Quarterback Austin Howard and running back Jeremy Jackson were offensive cornerstones since their freshman campaigns for the Rams, and each graduated last spring.
After guiding his team to consecutive finishes as a Class 1A semifinalist in 2012 and 2013, Valdez knows his team will take time to gel.
Hence the focus on physicality. While the Rams’ young players need that time to sharpen the mental side of their game, in the meantime he wants the strength advantage on his team’s side.
Likewise, he doesn’t want to see his new starters wilt under the physical demands of a grueling schedule. With teams like local rivals Riverside and St. James and a 4A power in Holy Cross part of WSJ’s pre-district fare — and 5A East St. John lying in wait for a jamboree scrimmage — Valdez said this is where the focus has to remain.
“Nobody’s going to feel sorry for us because of our youth,” Valdez said. “Many of these kids haven’t played a lot of varsity football. Defensively, there’s more familiarity with what we’re doing. Offensively, we’re gonna have to rely a lot on our running game as we get our quarterbacks up to speed. Today, that’s what you saw. We’re out here working on run, run, run.”
Neither Borne nor Boudoin were starters a season ago, but each saw significant playing time, spelling Jackson. Borne finished the regular season as the River Parishes’ eighth-leading rusher, gained 918 yards and rushed for eight touchdowns.
“Both Lamore and I are prepared for it,” Borne said of the increased workload. “We want to continue that tradition of great running backs at West St. John.”
Valdez emphasized mental toughness as an attribute both players bring to the table.
“That’s something we really need from those guys, because they’ll be running behind an inexperienced offensive line,” Valdez said. “They know we’re developing up front and that they’re going to have to elevate their own game, be it in terms of breaking more tackles, protecting the ball better or improving their footwork. They’re gonna share a lot of carries between them.”
Said Boudoin, “We’re ready. Whenever I’m called on to go in, I’ll be ready to go. Right now we’re working on getting stronger, being even more physical at the line, and for all of us, being in the right place at the right time.”
Ryan Cannon returns on the line for WSJ, the team’s lone full-time starter up front from a year ago.
At receiver, Morrell Bartholomew broke out as a junior last season. The 6’4” pass catcher established himself as a significant threat and, Valdez believes, could just be a young quarterback’s best friend this coming season.
“He catches the ball at a high point,” said Valdez. “He can really help our young quarterbacks because they know they just need to get it in the area code. Get that thing within 20 feet and he’ll haul it in.”
Those quarterbacks are Juwan Boudoin and Jemoine Green, both currently sophomores. Each has the potential to enjoy a bright future, Valdez believes. Boudoin, a left-handed passer, projects as a pocket-passer whereas Valdez calls the athletic Green, “perfect for getting out and running and for our zone-read plays.”
“If I could combine those guys together, I’d have the best quarterback in the state,” Valdez said. “Right now, both guys are competing. But if it comes down to it, I’m not afraid of a two-quarterback system. If we feel that gives us our best chance to win, I’m not a guy who’s averse to that.”
Defensively, defensive backs Trey Nathan and Jimmy Connor lead a veteran secondary. Jordan Gauthier brings a strong presence in the middle of the defense at linebacker, while big defensive tackle Quantae Gaudia provides the muscle in the middle of the defensive line at 6’, 245 pounds.
While the Rams’ up-tempo offense doesn’t lend to a gaudy “points against” ranking due to the number of possessions the team must defend, the West St. John stop unit was a legitimate force. The Rams held six teams to 10 points or less, including three shutouts. Only twice all season did West St. John allow a team to top 30 points in a game despite the team replacing almost the entire defensive lineup. WSJ will have a new defensive coordinator leading the charge, with LaVanta Davis assuming that role with predecessor Antoine Carter moving on to East St. John.
While it’s early, one thing Valdez can quantify about his team is its improved roster size. More than 40 players are suiting up this spring, a program-high for Valdez since he’s been with the school.
“I remember one year only having 18 at this point,” Valdez said. “It’s fantastic for us. We have a chance to work with a lot of kids and see what they can do. It also presents an opportunity for us to maybe not have to rely so much on our starters to play special teams.”