Football Preview 2023: West St. John rebuilds with new leadership

Published 1:28 pm Wednesday, August 23, 2023

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EDGARD — West St. John fell short during the 2022 football season, tumbling to a 2-7 record, but first-year head coach Derron Thomas is stepping in with a vision to return the storied program to its former glory.

Thomas spent his formative years as a multi-sport athlete at West St. John. Since returning home, he has hit the hallways to encourage guys to come out for the team. Numbers quickly rose from 17 team members in the spring to more than 40 by August. Fourteen are returning starters.

“Numbers are picking back up. They improved so much that we ran out of helmets, but that’s a good problem to have,” Thomas said.

Five seniors are on the Rams’ roster this year. Brandon Jones, a multi-year starter, will lead the offensive line.

“He’s been really busting his butt with a good summer and fall workout. He has been strong at training and camp,” Thomas said. “He’s the rock of the offensive line.”

Senior Michael Motton will return with experience to guide the younger guys on the team.

Thomas will also look to Kylin Smith for senior leadership on both sides of the ball. Smith has been playing on varsity since he was in the eighth grade and will take on multiple roles this year, including quarterback, wide receiver, cornerback and safety.

Smith is also known as a role model on and off the field.

“He’s like the poster boy of the school right now. He does everything the right way academically and athletically. He’s an example that our kids can look up to.”

Senior Darnell Jarrow will play at wide receiver, linebacker and defensive end. Thomas said Jarrow and Smith both have the potential to play football at the collegiate level. Jarrow in particular has bought into the program and coaching staff, and he rises to the occasion on the field.

Senior Tyler Singleton is new to the football team but has prior experience in basketball. According to Thomas, he has proved himself to be a hard worker during the spring and summer and will be a big addition to the program.

Junior Keimyren Weber will be a big name this season as West St. John’s starting quarterback who will fill several roles on the field, including receiver. West St. John’s versatile starters also include running back/linebacker Kailen Edwards, running back/ cornerback Jakari Milton, defensive end/ wide receiver Darrious Patterson, and offensive lineman Ke’Juan Fobb.

Thomas referred to Fobb, a sophomore, as a “Division I caliber” athlete.

“I think by the time he’s a senior, he will be one of the top linemen in the state of Louisiana,” Thomas said.

West St. John also has a lot of youth on the freshman/JV level. Among them is eighth grader Aubrey White, who Thomas expects to become one of the better linemen in the state once he is eligible to play.

Thomas said rebuilding a winning culture begins with work in the classroom, ensuring every kid is prepared to pursue higher education and the workforce.

“There were a lot of things with the program that I wanted to clean up as far as academics and athletics,” Thomas said. “We expect to win every game. We’ve never accepted losing, so every time we play against a team, we are going to prepare, train, and do everything that we need to do on our end to get a win. We are going to take it one game at a time.”

The regular season will include seven home games and three away. The Rams will host familiar opponent Ascension Catholic week one at home. Next up is the anticipated Railroad Classic against regional rival St. James in Week two.

Week three will be against Donaldsonville, and some guys will be back from ineligibility to face Thrive Academy in week four and Ascension Episcopal in Week Five.

“There were some issues that happened last year, and some of these guys have three more games to sit out. They are excited and ready to put the past behind them,” Thomas said. “A lot of these things were miscommunication that could have potentially been avoided. We will be communicating with the guys, the coaching staff, and the parents to educate at all levels and make sure everyone knows how the rules work. The kids understand. They are a good group of kids, and we are going to keep them positive and move forward.”

West St. John will face a stacked district schedule with challenges from Riverside Academy, St. Martin’s, Crescent City and Varnado. It will take a group effort and sound defense to overtake St. Martin’s, which features Harlem Berry, the top ranked running back in America for the Class of 2025.

The schedule rounds out with quality ball club Pine High School in Week 10.

“We like to play higher classifications in our non-district so we can get acclimated to that atmosphere and get ready for our playoff run come November or December,” Thomas said. “We have a lot of new first year coaches coming in on staff. We just want to come in and show the kids that we care for them, and we appreciate them for the hard work that they’ve been putting in. We have a traditional program, and we want to get West St. John back to where it once was.”