Tigers hope new coach hits ground running

Published 11:30 pm Tuesday, August 19, 2014


BOUTTE — On offense, Hahnville is shifting from a pro style attack to the option. Defensively, the focus moves from man to zone. 

Implementing such drastic changes on both sides of the ball in one offseason is an ambitious venture. Of course, nobody has ever accused new Hahnville coach Nick Saltaformaggio of lacking ambition. 

“We’re not where we want to be right now, but luckily we don’t have to be just yet,” Saltaformaggio said. “I think we’re coming along pretty well in all three phases.”

Saltaformaggio, who led East Jefferson to its first ever state football championship last season, was tabbed for the Hahnville head coaching job after longtime Tigers coach Lou Valdin stepped down earlier this year. The former EJHS coach earned national recognition for his work with the Warriors and, once Valdin made his departure official, was the kind of splash hire that captured the imaginations of Tiger fans. 

Still, the adjustment is ongoing. 

“The biggest thing right now is our tempo,” Saltaformaggio said. “You know, it’s one thing to be having to learn a new offense, a new defense, a new style in the kicking game … but learning it at the (fast) tempo I like to have in practice presents a challenge. On one hand, I don’t want to slow down, but on the other, sometimes I have to back off a little so we can get it right.”

The Tigers rarely lack for talent and won’t again in 2014. Six Hahnville players are committed to play at the next level, including defensive back Jai Knight, defensive linemen Dwaine Thomas and Fred Brown, wide receiver Brandon Singleton, running back/wide receiver Rickey Preston and offensive lineman Landon Kinler.

The biggest offensive playmakers figure to be Singleton and Preston, the latter converting to “slot back” after playing receiver last season. 

In Singleton, Saltaformaggio said these Tigers will have something his East Jefferson team did not have: a true deep threat. 

“We had fast guys who couldn’t catch and slow guys who could,” said Saltaformaggio. “So many times, we were blocking nine or 10-man boxes. Now, if you give us that look, a single-high (safety), we have someone who can make that explosive play.”

Quarterback Mike Neal, meanwhile, has to make less adjustment to a new offense than most — he transferred to the school from the most well-known of option teams, John Curtis.

“I think he’s got a lot of ability,” Saltaformaggio said. “He’s deceptively fast, he’s long and he whips the ball out there very well. We need to find ways to protect him. He has an option background, which helps.”

Neal’s play, as well as the play of Hahnville’s offensive line, is what will ultimately determine the team’s offensive success, Saltaformaggio said.

“There’s no questioning the ability of guys like (Singleton and Preston),” Saltaformaggio said. “They’re dynamic players. But I still think you win games at the line of scrimmage. That’s where we need to make significant strides. If you don’t have good offensive line and quarterback play, you’re going to struggle to get to where you’d like to be.”

Defensively, Brown looks to be the anchor at nose tackle in the team’s new 3-3 stack scheme. 

“He’s as good a football player as I’ve ever coached,” Saltaformaggio said. “That nose guard has to be a demon for you in the 3-3 stack. 

“He has unbelievable lower body strength and tremendous agility. He’s probably the most flexible guy on our team, if you can believe that. I’m really looking forward to seeing him play.”

At linebacker, Chris Marshall has made his presence known — Saltaformaggio calls him “the best defensive player we’ve got who’s not named Fred” — while the secondary is strong with Knight leading the way.

“(Knight) has a very high football IQ,” Saltaformaggio said. 

The Tigers will scrimmage at 5:30 p.m.  Thursday at Northshore Thursday  attempting to take another step to readiness for the regular season. Once the season comes, there will be no time to waste: non-district clashes with contenders Salmen, Rummel and Landry-Walker will offer major tests to the Tigers and a coach who hasn’t lost a game since 2012. 

“I haven’t minced words with our team,” Saltaformaggio said. “We’ll have to play very, very well early. Some teams can back into their seasons, are maybe good enough to where they just have to not actively hurt themselves and lose a game. That’s not us. We’re going to have to go out and win those games.”