With youth leading way, Rams still plan to win

Published 11:45 pm Tuesday, July 29, 2014


EDGARD — West St. John will be going to battle on the gridiron with plenty of new faces in uniform this fall. But head coach Robert Valdez made at least one thing perfectly clear when speaking about his team’s expectations.

The Rams, he said, have no intentions of going through a true “rebuilding” campaign.

“The confidence level that we’ve established here, we expect to win,” Valdez said. “We plan on playing into late November and beyond.”

Indeed, the Rams have grown accustomed to winning over the years. West St. John has secured state titles in 1998, 2003 and 2004. WSJ has finished as a state runner-up, state semifinalist and state semifinalist respectively over the past three seasons and, under Valdez, the team has been virtually untouchable in Class 1A over that stretch, going 24-3 against teams in its classification. 

This year, the Rams must do it behind a different passer. Only Austin Howard has started behind center for WSJ in the past three seasons. Jermoine Green will step in as the team’s new signal caller. The junior backed up Howard last season and also played wide receiver. 

“The old adage says you go with your best athlete, and he’s got a chance to really be something,” Valdez said. “He’s got a good arm and a pretty good command of the offense. We’re going to be a little more athletic at that spot in terms of running with it.”

That aspect, Valdez said, will give a different dimension to the Rams’ no-huddle attack. Howard’s greatest strengths were his quick release and ability to process defensive coverages, and Green will have to develop those things, the coach said. 

But off the bat, teams will have to respect his ability to make a big play with his legs. 

“His feet are very fast,” Valdez said. “We can use him to do more things in terms of running. Jermoine will get to that place (diagnosing defensive coverages as Howard did), but right now we know he can make things happen in other ways.”

Behind him are a pair of experienced tailbacks in Bradley Borne and Lamore Boudoin, each of whom backed up Jeremy Jackson a year ago. Borne rushed for more than 1,000 yards while spelling Jackson. 

At receiver, 6’4” Morell Bartholomew returns to lead a corps with multiple players standing 6’1” or taller.

“We’ve got some speedsters too, but having those bigger receivers is huge for us with a young quarterback,” Valdez said. “It takes the pressure off for throws to be perfect.”

The offensive line will start three juniors, including two-way difference maker Ryan Cannon, a sophomore and a freshman. 

“We’re gonna be good and young,” Valdez said. 

“This group really works hard. We’ve got faith and trust in them that they’ll fight and make life difficult for opposing people.”

Defensively, the Rams are more experienced. Trey Nathan is usually the first name off Valdez’s lips when discussing that side of the ball. 

He said the safety will do a little of everything, saying he’ll play a role for WSJ reminiscent of Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu. Nathan has three scholarship offers currently, Valdez said, from Liberty, Grambling State and Kent State, with Louisiana Tech also showing interest in him. 

“He’s 6’1” and 215 pounds, and he runs a 4.5,” Valdez said. 

“He covers a lot of ground out there. We’re gonna put him in a lot of different positions so he can keep making plays.” 

Tackle Quantae Gaudia will be asked to provide much of the push up front on the defensive line while Dontell Louper and Jimmy Connor are versatile, multi-positional playmakers behind him. 

Deep into the 1A playoffs, the running game has historically been king. 

Stopping the ground attack is prime objective No. 1 for the Rams, Valdez said.

“It’s the physical mentality we have to have,” Valdez said. “You look at what we’ll be dealing with in those late-season games, the Haynesvilles, the Manghams … you have to stand up to them up front.”