Hemelt: West St. John High football players finish as winners

Published 12:04 am Saturday, December 3, 2016

Brandon Walters was pretty honest with me when we talked this week.

As head football coach for West St. John High School, he is used to people — students and other adults — paying attention to him when he speaks.

He admits that might not have been the case Nov. 25 in the locker room following his Rams’ devastating loss to Many High School in the third round of the Class 2A football playoffs.

“Of course, no one wants to take the medicine from losing right after the game,” Walters said. “There is not much the coach can say that is going to make anyone feel any better, even for those that were actually listening.”

Walters said he uses sports to motivate his players to strive to be better men and more productive citizens.

He reiterated that point in Sabine Parish following his team’s 44-30 defeat to the Tigers — a game which West St. John was leading 30-28 with five minutes remaining.

“My message to them is, ‘You are going to go on and be men in life,’” Walters said. “A football game, winning or losing in high school, will not dictate anything that is set forth to take place in life. We’re still West St. John, and our goal is to be successful young men who graduate high school for the seniors and, for the underclassmen, to look forward to doing better next year.

“Take the licks, bumps and bruises from this particular year and tie them to the work ethic you put into the weight room and commitment to offseason training.”

Walters knows not all of his players were listening at that exact moment, but if recent success on the field and in the classroom are indicators, there are a lot of successful days ahead for West St. John High’s football players.

Take a look at this year’s playoffs. The Rams’ losing record in the regular season set them up as a 24 seed going into the playoffs. That didn’t stop them from outscoring No. 9-seed East Feliciana and No. 8-seed South Plaquemines by a combined 90-49 during back-to-back upset victories.

In fact, it took a string of “questionable” calls for the Rams to lose to Many. On more than one occasion, ball placement was moved to secure Many first downs. That is not a rare occurrence for South Louisiana teams forced to play playoff games in North Louisiana.

Focusing on just the end result would sell the student athletes short.

“Our goal is to get kids into college,” Walters said. “I won’t lie and say we don’t tell that to our kids. We try to give them the roadmaps to get there, which is preparing academically to deal with the rigors of college and being on a college campus, having good study habits, being ready for the ACT test and carrying yourself as a man.”

Walters said half of his graduating seniors have the opportunity to earn athletic scholarships and the rest possess numerous academic and walk-on paths to college.

Players like Jamal Walters, Austin Alexander, Kidric Gray Jr., Marcus Boudoin and Wonzell Dumas have positioned themselves for future success. They just have to realize last month’s football defeat is a mere blip in the game of life.

Walters said the greater West St. John community has pushed its youth for years to succeed. The track record for success — recognition from Newsweek, top marks from state evaluators and professions of local graduates — speaks to the quality of students the school produces.

That is as true today as it was before the playoffs began.

Stephen Hemelt is publisher and editor of L’OBSERVATEUR. He can be reached at 985-652-9545  or stephen.hemelt@lobservateur.com.