Roussel holds pride for Riverside

Published 12:08 am Wednesday, June 1, 2016

LUTCHER— To some, the football field at Riverside Academy is just a patch of grass. To many, it has been a battlefield of sorts where wars are routinely won and lost.

The Riverside Rebels play their home games on Mickey Roussel Field, named for the school’s alum and longtime football and softball coach who stepped down in 2011.

The Riverside Rebels play their home games on Mickey Roussel Field, named for the school’s alum and
longtime football and softball coach who stepped down in 2011.

To Mickey Roussel, it was both — and so much more.

“That was my baby,” Roussel said. “I cut the grass, I killed the grass. I killed the ants, I fertilized, I seeded, I watered, I took care of it. It would take me about four hours to cut it. That was my quiet time, my safe haven.”

For more than 40 years, that was Roussel’s field, first as a player then as a coach. For 22 years, he was the head coach of the Rebels — and thus the de facto grass man — finally hanging up his whistle in 2011.

So it was fitting that the Riverside community honored Roussel in 2012 by naming the field after him.

“That’s a real honor,” he said. “There are a lot of memories.”

There were the wins, of course, including, Roussel said, “plenty of games we probably shouldn’t have won.”

There was the incredible playoff win on the road at Farmerville, where the opponent deliberately watered the field to try and slow the Rebels down. It worked for a while as the Farmers jumped to a 21-0 lead. Then Riverside came back in the second half to win 33-28.

There was the game at Ascension Catholic where the Rebels scored three times in the final 4:30 to win.

There were games against district foes and a couple of young men named Manning.

“It was awesome,” Roussel said. “We’re still friends. We have a good relationship. I like Eli a little bit better because we beat Eli twice and Peyton beat us twice. So I’m a little partial to Eli because he let us win.”

There also were the years he spent doing double duty as the softball coach, becoming one of just a handful of head football coaches to take on both sports.

Roussel has had a lot of time to take stock of those memories since leaving the sideline. He’s had a few jobs in sales, played a lot of golf, took some long-overdue vacations with Sonya, his wife of 27 years, and their daughter, Kelsi. He’s had all his Friday nights off.

He’s beaten leukemia.

Diagnosed in 1997, Roussel is officially in remission.

Now, at the age of 59, Roussel is a few months in to a new job as a planner with the Office of Emergency Preparedness in St. James Parish.

The whistle, however, appears to be hung up for good.

“I thought about it,” he said. “I applied for a couple of jobs — when the Destrehan job opened, when St. James first opened up. You never say never, but probably not. I remember I watched the movie ‘Shawshank Redemption’ and the Morgan Freeman character said he was afraid to get out because he had been institutionalized. Well, I was institutionalized at Riverside. I don’t know if I could coach anywhere else. Well I can. I don’t know if I want to. It was very family-oriented.”

He certainly did it well.

Roussel finished with an overall record of 196-82 with three state runner-up finishes, seven trips to the semifinals and a legacy as one of the area’s longest-tenured coaches.

“I’m most proud of the way we did things, how we went about it,” he said. “Seventy-five percent of my staff were former players, guys who came through the program. It was fun to watch them come back and bring them in then turn them loose. I don’t think you see that many places. We were a family in every sense of the word, and you take care of your family.”

He has been to one half of one high school football game since.

“It’s hard, so I just stay away,” he said. “Friday evenings are very relaxing. Coaching football and softball was never stressful. If you’re stressed as a high school coach you better get out. Les Miles can be stressed out, but he’s making $5 million a year.”

Now that he’s off doing new things, including tending to his own lawn and his wife’s flower garden, the Lutcher native said he has no regrets.

“If there’s one adjective I would like to be left with, that summed up what I’ve done, it would be loyalty,” he said. “I was always loyal to Riverside. I always put Riverside first.”

By Lori Lyons