Jenkins, St. James looks to take next step
Published 11:45 pm Friday, August 8, 2014
By RYAN ARENA
ST. JAMES — Season preparation is a little different this time around for coach Dwain Jenkins and his St. James Wildcats football team. Then again, in some ways, its more familiar than ever.
Jenkins took over a once-proud Wildcats program in 2013 after a pair of winless seasons, campaigns that were a shock to prep fans used to the Wildcats contending for district titles and threatening to make deep playoff runs.
The rebuilding effort took a little while to get off the ground, SJH falling in its first four games last season to extend its losing streak to 24. But once the Wildcats got that first win, SJH caught fire, a run that saw the team win six of its next eight games before falling in the Class 2A quarterfinals at Kinder, 21-13.
Once again St. James was making a deep playoff run. And once again, Jenkins was one of the masterminds of such a run, after a strong run as the offensive coordinator of perennial power Lutcher.
“We’ve embraced (the added expectations),” Jenkins said. “We feel like we may have arrived ahead of schedule. Maybe not in the regular season … but by the end of the year, the finish to it, we know people now expect more. And now we can start laying the groundwork for hopefully making that playoff run into December.”
There are a number of reasons for legitimate optimism here. The Wildcats were extremely young last season, starting numerous 8th graders, freshmen and sophomores. Nine offensive starters return for St. James while 10 will be back on defense.
“We knew it was going to be a rebuilding season last year,” said Jenkins. “We went with the youth movement and let a lot of guys who probably would have been JV players last year get experience on Friday nights.
“Moving onto this year, we’re still young, but we’ve got a lot more experience.”
Another reason for high expectations is the presence of sophomore passer Lowell Narcisse, who blossomed in the second half of last season into a strong dual threat. Narcisse erupted for a number of big performances after dealing with injuries and inexperience early in 2013, and he carried that momentum over to this year’s spring game. He tossed six touchdown passes in that performance.
“He may have played some quarterback here and there before last season, but mostly we expected him to rely on his athleticism as he grew into the role,” Jenkins said. “But when he got hurt, he had to learn to rely on his ability to pass from the pocket.
“Now, when you look at him, his recognition of coverages, his anticipation, knowledge of when to let it go and where to go with it, he’s made so many strides. He protected the ball last season and we need that to continue.”
On the defensive side of the ball, linebacker Aquindas Steib was the biggest breakout star, earning All-State recognition after a string of dominating postseason performances.
“He was playing as well as anyone in the state by that point,” Jenkins said.
Jonta Jones is a huge presence in the middle of the defense at tackle at 6’1”, 285 lbs. And in the secondary, Jenkins believes Mason Scott is in line for another big season.
“Jonta’s one of the leaders of our team as a whole,” Jenkins said. “And Mason Scott is a guy who really quietly had a great year for us. He’s a guy who can lock down a team’s No. 1 receiver, but, if our corners develop, we’d like to have him in the middle of the field at safety. He’s a ball hawk.”
Jenkins said the things he felt weren’t realistic discussion points after two winless seasons are now things he and his team can and will focus on: mainly, perfecting the habits of championship-level teams.
“We know the teams that had our number last season, and we’ll see them again,” Jenkins said. “We weren’t ready to compete with teams like Riverside, Newman and West St. John. Maybe we’re still not ready to beat those teams, but we’ll see where we are this year. When we play them, we’ll have a chance to really see how far we’ve come.”