Gators hunger for quick sucess after winless campaign
ST. AMANT – As the St. Amant football program moves into the second year under the tutelage of head coach David Oliver, the Gators will rely heavily on the experience of a senior class of 20 and to dissolve the memories of a winless season.
“There is no doubt that we are going to continue to shoot for the stars,” Oliver said. “I think everyone involved has an ultimate goal to have a state champion in every sport. We are never going to back away from that. Last year, we were in a transition phase and were a long way off. What we are going to try and do on a year-to-year basis is close that gap from a program standpoint and not necessarily a players standpoint. We are trying to get players to fit into our program and we want to continually improve it from the way we operate, to the way we practice and we think we are going to get there eventually.”
St. Amant is coming off a winless season, the first since going 0-10 in 1979, the second year of the program, finishing with an 0-9 overall record and 0-5 district mark a year ago but there is a sense of optimism in the air as they return 14 starters.
“I think you have to look at the adversity that we struggled through and how that has made us stronger,” Oliver said. “The guys that went through that really appreciate success right now. The three keys to sucess are don’t whine, don’t complain and don’t make excuses and I think they have all bought into that. We are not going to worry about the other team. We are going to worry about our preparation and we are going to shoot for the stars and continue to improve. We have improved depth on both sides of the ball and there is going to be vast improvement on both interior lines. You are going to notice some size difference which is going to help us compete with some of the teams we play.”
OFFENSE – St. Amant will continue to run out of the triple option, an offense that has a storied tradition in the program and was reinstalled last year, but you will also see the Gators orchestrate the attack out of the shotgun this year as they have incorporated the spread into the scheme.
“It is a style of football that I believe in,” Oliver said. “ It has been time tested year after year. To really be a dominant football team and have a great chance of winning you have to be able to run the ball. We are bigger and more athletic along the front lines and the biggest thing we have probably done is stabilize the depth at all positions.”
The Gators return two quarterbacks with starting experience from a year ago in sophomore Tyler Guillory and junior Jaylin LeBlanc. Guillory started the final two games and is expected to take over after LeBlanc moves into a starting role in the secondary.
“We went through four of five quarterbacks last year,” Oliver said. “It looks like we will start out with Tyler and we have some nice depth behind him with Jaylin who has operated our offense in game-situations. That second time through has been so much easier from an installation and understanding standpoint and I think you are definitely going to see a huge improvement in the execution and the appearance of our offense.”
Returning to the backfield as the Gators’ top threat will be senior Tre` Vaughn who rushed for 400 yards on 66 carries with six touchdowns last season while catching 11 passes for 150 yards and one score. Joining him in the backfield will be another senior with starting experience in Nelson Jointer and junior Matt Marrero. Others who will take carries include seniors Romel Streit and Taylor Jones, junior Britton Day and sophomores Grady Miles and Andrew Allemand
“We feel like we have a stable of very good backs coming back with a lot of experience in the option,” Oliver said. “Last year, we only installed 40 percent of the offense because that is all we could master. This year, you will see the entire package because we have taught everyone the schemes.”
Oliver believes the offensive line will be a strong suit this season with the addition of several defensive lineman with game experience cross trained. The Gators return three starters in senior tackles Cory Brasseaux and Dillon Delaune and senior center Michael McDonald. Seniors Justin Bumgardner and Christian Jenkins, both with starting experience on the defensive front, are expected to start at the guard positions while another lineman from across the ball, senior Marvin Martin is in the mix. St. Amant has plenty of depth as well with a host of juniors that include Seth Vaccaro, Craig Bergeron and Logan Boudreaux.
“I think that we are going to be a little more physical and larger team,” Oliver said. “All of our seniors have really paid the price in the offseason to put on that extra bulk. The line was used to pass blocking and now they were run blocking last year. It was a skill that had to be learned and the more reps they got the better they have become.”
Senior wide receiver Chase Keller earned second-team all-district honors last season and returns to the passing game after catching a team-high 20 receptions for 200 yards and two touchdowns. Junior Breck Schexnaydre also returns and others who could be called upon include juniors Daniel St. Pierre, Shaft Graves and Dalton Alexander.
“They say we are heavy run as a triple option offense but really we want to be 60 percent run and 40 percent pass,” Oliver said. “We feel like we are going to be able to throw the ball off of play actions and when teams try to take advantage of our scheme we are going to hit them over the top.”
DEFENSE – St. Amant will once again run out of a 3-4 defense but have incorporated multiple schemes to defend various offenses including the spread.
“We have known depth,” Oliver said. “We feel like we are deep at every position on both sides of the ball and the trick is making sure they are in positions to be successful. They are hungry and I think they deserve it after going through last year’s adversity.”
The strength of the Gators’ defense will again be the line with four returnees that have starting experience in Martin, Bumgardner, Jenkins and senior Bryce Carpenter. Martin earned all-district second-team honors last season after registering 50 tackles. Providing depth on the line include Delaune, Vaccaro, Bergeron and Boudreaux.
“I don’t think there is any doubt that is the most experienced group,” Oliver said. “All of those guys have played a ton of football and they are good-sized high school football players. It is just endless how many guys you feel comfortable with to give us a shot in the arm with one or two plays here or there.”
Senior linebacker Chase Hitchcock moves inside after starting at outside linebacker last season and will be joined by fellow senior Tyler Schexnayder to bring size to the middle interio. Junior Marlon Bourgeois also returns at outside linebacker and will be joined by Streit to complete the corps.
However, the Gators return no starters in the secondary and will rely on an inexperienced group. LeBlanc started his freshmen year at Ascension Catholic and will be joined by Schexnayder at the safety positions, while senior Tony Raffrey and junior Jay Gipson man the corners. St. Pierre, Vaughn and Miles could also see playing time in the secondary.
“We had a senior heavy group last year but we feel like we have the right ingredients and just have to develop them,” Oliver said. “They are going to be inexperienced right now but our pass rush and underneath coverage will be more experienced. That is ultimately going to help those secondary players fulfill their obligations to the defense.”
SPECIAL TEAMS – Vaughn earned second-team all-district honors as a return specialist last season returning 25 kickoffs for 500 yards and 10 punts for another 100. LeBlanc also has experience returning kicks.
Junior Justin Manton returns at punter after averaging 30 yards per kick and will also assume kickoff and extra point duties.
SCHEDULE – St. Amant completely revamped their non-district schedule this season. Gone are the likes of Parkview Baptist, Lutcher, St. Charles Catholic, Central and Woodlawn. The Gators open the season against Covington at the Pit before traveling to Hammond. After hosting Plaquemine, they travel to Bonnabel for a Thursday night game before wrapping up the slate at home against Sarah Reed.
“I guess we are playing some different people than we have in the past but I am excited to see some new blood on the schedule.” Oliver said. “I tried to get teams that where schematically similar to teams that we play in our district. Having a chance to see it before hand will give us a chance to be successful.”
The Gators remain in District 5-5A, a powerhouse league that consistently sends four teams to the playoffs and has claimed the last two Class 5A state championships. St. Amant travels to East St. John to open the slate before hosting parish rival Dutchtown. After traveling to arch rival East Ascension, they return home against Hahnville and two-time defending state champion Destrehan to close out the regular season.
“I think our district is one of the most competitive districts in the state from top to bottom,” Oliver said. “ There has been a state championship participant in almost every major sport and it is just a strong all around sports league especially in football and we expect it to be strong again. We have a tough hill to climb every year but we are going to get more and more competitive in that district. What you have been shown is that if you can finish in the top four in our district, you can make the playoffs and you are going to have a good enough team to try and make a little noise. We are looking forward to playing all of those teams again this year.”
OUTLOOK – Following a winless campaign, the Gators are hungry to taste success and the quicker it happens may be key.
“We have to protect the football like always and we need a little early momentum,” Oliver said. “Our kids didn’t experience a lot of success last year and it is a shame that a lot of times you get judged just on Friday nights when there are 355 other days throughout the year that we have made progress. I think experiencing some early success, staying healthy and protecting the football will be the big keys to our season.”
“I think we will be a much better football team. How that turns out in the win-loss column remains to be seen.”