’Cats back to work

Published 11:45 pm Friday, May 23, 2014


RESERVE — As East St. John prepared for its spring game at O. Perry Walker Friday, East St. John coach Phillip Banko gave his opinion as to who generated the most impressive spring performances.

The names were familiar. 

“Jared Jackson, Nigel Anderson, (and) Xavier Lewis,” Banko said. “Antonio Parks. Ahmani Martin. These guys are all going into their fourth year. They’ve done it three times already and they’re ready for their senior season.”

While East St. John has to replace a slew of senior starters from last year’s team, the five names Banko mentioned have each been hugely productive for the Wildcats’ program. It’s a senior class with a tenure that coincides with the school’s displacement after Hurricane Issac, one that helped fuel an unlikely playoff run in 2012 and one that last season helped lead the Wildcats to their first home playoff victory since 2006. 

ESJ sent a whopping 15 seniors to the college ranks on National Signing Day. The Wildcats must rebuild their offensive and defensive lines. 

But while Banko is cautiously optimistic that his players up front are developing into a gameday force, the confidence he has in his playmakers is high. Lewis returns at quarterback, while Anderson will line up alongside him in the backfield. Both will likely be high Division I commitments. Lewis has been recruited by LSU, Texas A&M, Florida, USC and UCLA. Anderson has gotten attention from Tennessee, Arizona State, Arizona and Arkansas. 

The Wildcats have been grooming Phil Adams at quarterback this spring. 2014 will be the sophomore’s first season playing football, and the further he comes along, Banko said, the more time Lewis will be able to spend at defensive back and wide receiver. Banko said Anderson will also see time at quarterback.

That said, he reiterated Lewis is the primary starter, and the junior has made great strides this spring.

“He’s made some throws that he couldn’t have made last season,” said Banko.

Anderson broke out as a junior in 2013 and earned high-praise from Banko.

“Nigel, I think, is our best football player,” Banko said. “Xavier is our best athlete. Ahmani is our best blend of football player and on-field coach. Nigel wants more reps every day, and I’ve got to rein him in. He’s so competitive. He’s stronger, more explosive, quicker. He started as a linebacker and now he’s turned into an offensive force for us.

“I’m just glad he’s on our side, that’s for sure.”

Fullback Shedrick Colbert is another who has impressed the coach. 

“He’s doing a great job,” Banko said. “He’s been a leader. He’s handling the ball well and doing a strong job in pass protection. We want to see more of him out there as our offseason rolls on.”

The offensive line will be full of sophomores next season. 

Banko has been pleased with their progression, noting that it affords the team a chance to see a young core group of blockers grow and play together for the next two-to-three years.

Defensively, Parks returns, another player getting plenty of division I attention. The 5’10” cornerback has offers from Clemson, Arizona, Arizona State, Duke, Iowa State and Southern Miss. 

Martin, meanwhile, has earned the nickname of “The Honey Cat” from Banko, named after LSU’s famous “Honey Badger” Tyrann Mathieu. The linebacker/safety earned L’Observateur’s St. John Parish Co-Defensive MVP honors with then-senior Darren Williams, and Martin is ready to put in another strong campaign.

“Us older guys are getting these young cats up to speed,” said Martin. “They’ll catch on and once that happens we’ll ball out. Right now we’ve getting everything together so we’re all 100 percent on the same page.”