Wildcats, Rams turn sights to jamboree

Published 11:45 pm Tuesday, August 26, 2014


EDGARD — West St. John coach Robert Valdez made no bones about his teams underdog status entering Thursday night’s home jamboree contest with East St. John. 

“It’s gonna be the battle of 300 battling the Persian Empire,” Valdez said with a laugh. “That’s the mentality we’re taking into it.”

The 5A Wildcats do indeed dwarf the Rams in number of players and came away victorious in last season’s jamboree clash. But West St. John hung tough in that one, falling 21-12 in the end.

West St. John embraced the underdog role last season, throwing caution to the wind on offense, defense and special teams: WSJ recovered two surprise onside kicks in that one, something ESJ coach Phillip Banko hasn’t forgotten.

“We always work on hands team, but that’s what we just wrapped up in practice today,” Banko said Monday.

While Valdez concedes a Rams victory would be an upset, that’s the only concession he’ll give. 

“We’re not going out to be anyone’s show pony,” Valdez said. “We’re going out there to win a game Thursday.

“East St. John has the blue chip recruits, a lot of depth and size, but the thing about my kids is they don’t fear anyone. They play their butts off no matter who lines up across from them.”

Banko also offers a great deal of respect for the Rams program. 

“We’re going to see a team boasting a lot of talented guys who are very well-coached,” Banko said. “It will be a playoff-like atmosphere, and it’s a good thing for us to see early on. We go on the road six times this season, and (West St. John) always create(s) a tough atmosphere to play in on the road.”

Last year, a question was how much Valdez and his team would embrace their new, no-huddle style offense against bigger teams with more depth. The coach said there would be no scaling it back and he stayed true to form.

Regardless, Banko said the Wildcats will be ready for it.

“We practice against that spread every day,” he said, noting East St. John’s offense shares the spread philosophy with the Rams. “The tempo makes guys stay focused and on top of things. We like to practice at that tempo.”

One thing is for sure: if WSJ is to challenge again, the defense must step up as it did a year ago. The Rams put forth a solid defensive showing last week in their scrimmage at Lutcher, and Valdez said it must continue this Thursday and beyond.

“It’s kind of cyclical,” Valdez said. “Last season our offense got the hype. This year, we are going to really lean on our defense to be tough and make plays. We need them to hold the rope and anchor us until our young offense gels.”

Valdez noted the Rams will be debuting a new starting quarterback, center and running back.

“It’s  no secret,” Valdez said. “When you lose (quarterback) Austin Howard, (running back) Jeremy Jackson and (center) Koi Rainey … I mean, Koi has been our center since his eighth grade year,” Valdez said. “Teams know we’re young. They’re going to blitz the heck out of us.”

An example of youth being served: Rams center Brett Bailey, who won the starting job in last week’s scrimmage, is just an eighth grader.

“My starting center just made 14 years old,” Valdez laughed. “Congratulations, here’s your birthday present, 5A East St. John.”

Banko reiterated one of his common mantras of this preseason: He wants to see explosive, game-changing plays in all three phases.

“Yards after catch, yards after contact, tackle for loss, pass deflections,” Banko said. 

“We’ll chart them and we want to see that sheet filled up.” 

Kickoff for junior varsity is scheduled for 5 p.m., with the varsity taking the field at 6 p.m.