A fresh start

Kyle Riviere
Receiver Jaquel Gant returns as one of Donaldsonville's most explosive weapons at receiver. Photo by Dewey Keller.

The Donaldsonville Tigers are hoping that a new head coach and new district will breathe new life into the program and take them back to the postseason.

That's a place where they had grown quite accustomed to seeing. It wasn't long ago when they went 8-2 and reached the regional round of the playoffs.

However, ever since jumping up to 3A, nothing has come easy for the Tigers. In their first season in the classification, they dropped down to 6-4 and loss in the opening round.

And just last season, in the midst of a rebuilding year, they took their lumps by the bunches and finished just 2-8.

Those days have now past them. Their young and inexperienced roster has been baptized by fire and now knows what it's going to take for them to win this year. Instead of only returning six starters like last season, they now bring back 12.

There will be one new face, and that is at head coach. With four-year play-caller Terence Williams leaving for Redemptorist, Donaldsonville decided to take a chance on Benny Guilbeaux. This will be his first stint at head coach.

Guilbeaux actually served on the Tiger staff as an assistant in 2010. Last year, he was the defensive coordinator for Assumption.

He comes into the Donaldsonville program bolstering a football resume as impressive as you'll find. Before his stint in coaching, he played at Notre Dame--where he started at strong safety.

Guilbeaux believes that playing at such a mecca of college football will be key in gaining his players' respect and trust as a first-year head coach.

"Any time a player can see that a coach has come from experience and has actually played, it just ads to the sense of respect that player has for that coach," Guilbeaux said. "It helps build a rapport because the kid knows he has been through some things as a player."

One of the first things Guilbeaux has done since he arrived is reshuffling things on the offensive side of the ball.

He has changed the offense from a spread attack to a multiple-pro system, but the biggest amendment has come at the quarterback position.

After being the Tigers' signal-caller last season, Tulane commit Leondre James will be moving back to his natural position at wide receiver. Two years ago, James was an honorable mention All-State performer--snagging passes for 1,100 yards.

He will be joining another dangerous fellow wideout in Jaquel Gant, but Donaldsonville still isn't quite sure who will be throwing them the ball. There is still a hot quarterback competition going on between Jeremy Jones, Tyler Brown, Cardell Forcell and others to see who will take their spot under center.

Defensively, the Tigers will be transitioning to a 3-4 look, but they will not restrict themselves to the formation. They will adapt according to the offense they're facing.

Coach Guilbeaux is expecting linebacker Percy Cargo to be big for the Donaldsonville defensive unit. Floyd Foster will be key as well as he splits time at defensive lineman and linebacker. Besides playing receiver, James looks to be one of the brightest spots in the Tiger secondary.

As important as it is for Donaldsonville to perform well on the field, it's just as important for the players to rebound mentally after the struggles of last year.

"Confidence was a factor, but getting people around them that cares about them is the biggest thing," Guilbeaux said. "With new people comes new opportunities. The numbers are growing."

And with those growing numbers, the first-year coach says that the Tigers' practices have been very encouraging and that they are steadily improving. He's hoping that will immediately pay dividends on the field.

"The biggest key is going to be winning. As long as you're winning, things tend to work out," Guilbeaux said. "The most important thing is going to be winning early and if that happens, we can start rolling and pick up steam."

They'll get their first opportunities to taste victory in their fall scrimmage at St. James and their jamboree against Sarah Reed on Aug. 30.

And when the regular season begins, Donaldsonville will be faced with the new challenges of a new district. They make the move to District 9-3A where their new foes will be: E.D. White, Patterson, Berwick and Franklin.

Regardless of their opponent, Coach Guilbeaux has just one simple goal for his team this year.

"It's all very simple: winning," Guilbeaux said. "The word 'win' is an acronym for 'what's important now,' and that's staying out of trouble, taking care of your academic responsibilities, respecting each other and the coaches and if you do all of that, it equates to winning on the field."