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ST. JAMES WILDCATS

VACHERIE – St. James football coach Robert Valdez doesn’t appreciate what people are saying about his team this season.

A lot of people, including some on the other side of the river, are saying that the Wildcats are the team to beat in District 9-3 and maybe even in the state — to which Valdez quoted an old rap song.

“Don’t believe the hype,” he said.

Right.

“With what they have coming back they have to be one of the top teams and have the target on their back,” said Lutcher coach Dwain Jenkins.

He should know. The Wildcats go into this season as the favorite to win District 9-3A because they have a roster full of college prospects, a well-seasoned quarterback in senior Shamar Smith, who has a couple of offers to mull over.

“He’s been playing since he was a freshman,” Valdez said. “He’s battle-tested. Now it’s his time to cash in.     He’s a very talented young man.”

Smith is one of six returning starters on offense, including wide receivers Logan Gravois and She’N  Joseph and running back Sean Lebeouf, who has committed to Navy. Senior offensive tackle Jaquon Jones and junior offensive guard Greg Rounds return to the line, where they will be joined by new starting center Adam Baptiste, freshman guard Jace Phillips and tackle Deandre Keller. On defense, Valdez lost only three starters. He returns All-State linebacker Kaleb Brown; Keller, Rounds and Phillips spend time on the defensive line as well. Valdez predicts a lot of folks will be watching senior defensive tackle Saivion Jones.

“He’s the big guy,” Valdez said. “He’s tall, he’s rangy, and he does everything you ask him to do.”

Valdez also urged fans not to be concerned with the number of freshmen who will be playing – starting, in fact.

“They’re not your usual freshmen,” he said. “We play our freshmen early.”

Fans likely will be more focused on the renewal of the district rivalry with cross-river rival Lutcher. The past two seasons, the two have played only for St. James Parish bragging rights. But, thanks to reclassification and Lutcher’s drop down to Class 3A, the two are back in District 9-3A.

“We’re district compadres again,” Valdez said. “I think it’s a good thing. Either way it goes it’s going to fuel the fire in every sport. It means a little more than what it already meant before. We know exactly who we’re playing. Lutcher and St. James go hand in hand.” This year’s game will be even bigger than usual as host St. James is planning to make it an event to celebrate the state’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). The 1979 state championship team will be honored at the game. Before the game, the colleges will hold a recruiting tailgating event. Then, the Southern University marching band is scheduled to perform at halftime.