St. Mary’s at North Caddo, Friday, Oct. 2
Saint Mary’s and the rest of Natchitoches parish schools finally get to put on the pads and hit the football field this week. It has been a long time in coming and I, for one, am ready for something that resembles normal this year. While the competition will be normal, the rest of the atmosphere will be marred with continued mask mandates, reduced attendance at some venues and compliance with LHSAA guidelines• for competition.
A look at the fall sports LHSAA guidance would have one asking whether it is even worth playing this season. All coaches and administrators have completed NHFS required Covid-19 education and all athletes, coaches and game personnel will have to complete a health questionnaire prior to travel to games. Just a few of the rules are as follows. “Players maintain proper social distancing of at least 6 feet apart when receiving coaching instruction,” “Face covering must be worn by all personnel on the sidelines.”
No handshakes or fist bumps post game after you literally sweated on that guy for 60 minutes. Impractical and difficult? Yes. Impossible? No. We have high school football back and these coaches and young men will do whatever it takes to have a season. We all need it. The Tiger’s struggled last season, posting a 4-6 record but were in contention for a W in a couple of close games that could have swung in their favor.
The offense had a difficult time finding the end zone. Several games had the Tigers moving the ball well only to stall in the red zone. On defense it was the big play that was the Achilles heel. Often times the Tiger’s just could not get off the field on third and long faced by their opposition. Penalties were also costly. The yellow flag was tossed 49 times last season for 530 yards. Saint Mary’s will return several players at key positions but also lost some great talent to graduation and transfer. Returning at the QB spot will be senior Andrew Godfrey backed up by Adam Parker. Godfrey was injured a couple of games last year but when he was at the helm, he completed 63 of 103 passes for over 800 yards. His main target, Graeme Fidelak, is back after posting nearly 350 receiving yards last season and nearly 100 rushing yards.
Another favorite target will be Tristen Mitchell who had almost 300 receiving yards. Dane Files is a welcome addition and will be another potential target. Someone will have to replace leading rusher (500+ yards) Jason Ellie who graduated. Paul Messenger would likely have filled the void, but he and brother Jake transferred back to Riverdale. Those two will be missed, especially on defense, but its next man up. Adam Parker did an excellent job when called upon but did have issues with throwing interceptions. He will see time at defensive back this season if not taking the snaps.
The offensive line lacks size but not heart. Missing this season is Damon LeGrande. A standout on both sides of the ball last year for Saint Mary’s. In his absence, senior Jace Miley will anchor the O line and will need help from the likes of Russ Hillhouse, Kolton Norsworthy, Cole Fisher, Gavin LeGrange and others. Patrick Vienne will be a notable player on the line if healthy. It may take a week or two into the season to see who emerges at the running back position, but senior Noah Heard will get a lot of the early opportunity. He rushed for 208 yards on 32 carries last year. Heard will also be pulling some double duty on defense having recorded 19 and half tackles a year ago.
On defense, the Tigers have a couple of notable return players. Jeffery Townson will likely have to anchor the linebacker corps but will have help up front with a healthy Cameron Churchman who was having a good season last year before fracturing his wrist. Miley will pull double duty on the D line too. Putting pressure on the opposing QB will be defensive end Drake Griffin. Griffin is a young player with plenty of upside and recorded over 20 tackles last season. He will likely be aided by Logan Watson who will probably be asked to do a lot on both sides of the ball. Norsworthy and Michael Guillet may breakout as linebackers too.
This year more than ever, St. Mary’s will have to find a corner to lockdown some of the quick receivers they will face and provide run support and outside contain. There is no question about the kicking game. Payne Williams has set a high bar for whomever may follow him. Luckily for the Tigers that replacement is years away. William’s scored 37 points last year on a combination of extra points and field goals. This young man is money inside of 35 yards and has extended his range in the offseason.
Williams will likely garner the attention of Division 1 coaches for his place-kicking skills. First up for the Tigers in this abbreviated eight game season will be a road trip to face the North Caddo Rebels, a team that St. Mary’s just cannot seem to find an answer. Last year, the Tigers fell to the Rebels in a one-point game 14- 13, a close contest. Saint Mary’s won everywhere but the scoreboard. They had 227 yards of total offense versus 140; more first downs too. A missed extra point and field goal too. But, in the end a two-point conversion was the difference. 2015 was the first year these two teams played, and the last time St. Mary’s was victorious. It is time to lace up the cleats, strap up the helmets and get Friday night High School football going.
Coach Aaron York is excited to finally get the season started after so much off-season adversity for training and conditioning. It is hard to prepare young men when there are so many restrictions in place, but the Tigers have found a way to make it work. Soon they will determine the dividends of preparation and weight room deposits. Coach York commented on the forthcoming season saying, “I’m excited for the players and coaches to play football! It will be great to see all the hard work they put in during quarantine and the summer pay off. It’s football time!”
York has some additions to the coaching staff this season including new head basketball coach DeAndre Benton and St. Mary’s alums Jake Bankston and Jackson Carroll. It is indeed a “Great day to be a Tiger!” Even greater that football has made a return.
•Reference LHSAA Fall Sport Competition Guidelines memorandum Sept. 17,2020.