Ellender senior wide receiver Ralph Singleton took a quick peek at the scoreboard as he walked off the field Thursday night following the team’s game against Albany.
“I just wanted to make sure I was really seeing what I thought I was seeing,” Singleton said with a laugh.
His eyes weren’t lying.
This may have felt like a dream to Singleton and his teammates.
But it was reality.
The scoreboard really did say “Ellender 68, Albany 24.”
What a difference a year has made for the Ellender football program.
One year after another winless season, the Patriots are now 3-1 and are the early season feel-good story of the entire Tri-parish area.
“It’s emotional,” Singleton said. “I have a heavy heart for this thing we’re doing, man. It’s like a dream. Everything we’ve been through to get here has been tough. This is just so emotional. It’s a dream come true.”
The story of Ellender’s failures has been well documented in recent years.
Long plagued by a losing history, the Patriots have annually been among the bottom-tier of local teams throughout the past decade.
Rock bottom came in the 2009 and 2010 seasons when the Patriots were a combined 0-20 with most of the games uncompetitive blowouts.
To make things worse, the man initially hired to remedy the problem, first-year coach Tim Betts, was arrested and charged with sexual battery after police said he had a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old student.
He resigned before he ever coached a game for the Patriots.
It was June 2011. The new season was a few months away. Ellender didn’t have a head coach, nor seemingly a plan for the future.
“We’ve been through some pretty rough times here,” junior receiver Dan Mitchell said. “I think everyone knows all about those things.”
But with Betts’ dismissal, the winds of change started to blow in East Houma.
The school hired Terry Washington to take over the football program.
A seasoned coach with plenty experience turning around losing programs, Washington’s hire felt like it was driven by fate.
He said he was only on the market after missing out on other jobs that he had applied for that offseason.
But even with the new coach, Washington’s first season was rough.
The Patriots didn’t know the coach’s system, nor his weight program.
“There was too much of a focus on learning in year one,” Washington said over the summer. “The kids tried hard and gave a good effort, but there just wasn’t enough time.”
Ellender made strides in 2011, but finished 0-10 for a third-straight season.
The third winless campaign ran the Patriots’ losing streak to 33 games (they lost three in a row to end 2008). It meant that no one on Ellender’s roster had won a game entering this season.
But this offseason, something seemed to click within the program.
With Washington’s weight program, the youthful Patriots dedicated themselves to conditioning and became bigger, faster and stronger.
When on the field, the team was making more instinctive decisions because of the full season they had inside their coach’s playbook.
No one knew blowout victories were soon to follow, but everyone within the Patriots’ locker room said they had an inkling that 2012 would be different.
“In the summer time when we came into the weight room, I could just see how everyone was coming together,” junior receiver Thomas Johnson said. “You could just tell. You could just say to yourself, ‘Awe yeah, baby. This is the year.’”
“Did we know it’d be blowout wins and stuff? No. We didn’t,” junior receiver Jarred Turner said. “But we knew it wouldn’t be blowout losses, either.”
That point was established from the first game of the season – a road tilt against Terrebonne, a foe that had outscored Ellender 159-24 over the past three seasons.
This time, the Patriots weren’t willing to be bullied.
In fact, they were the ones doing the heavy hitting themselves, dominating the tempo early and pulling away late.
The 33 losses, three seasons of humiliation and constant ridicule was over.
The Patriots were in the win column – finally – after a 26-7 victory.
“Confidence,” Washington said. “It was all confidence. Getting that first one under our belt was a big morale boost for our kids.”
“That game really just showed us that we know how to win,” junior quarterback Dustin Creppel said. “It taught us that every time we take the field, it doesn’t have to end with us being the ones disappointed.”
Washington said the team didn’t handle its opening game success well and lost to H.L. Bourgeois in the season’s second game.
But since being refocused, Ellender has been on an absolute tear.
The Patriots won their third game 60-26 against West St. Mary.
They followed that up with a destructive 68-24 blowout of Albany last Thursday at South Terrebonne.
“It’s not a big surprise to everyone anymore when this happens,” junior receiver Kevin Luchien said.
But it’s still pre-district play and like a typical coach Washington said he will have a challenge keeping his team grounded inside of its newfound success.
“That will be a challenge,” the coach said. “No doubt.”
But for now, they are just taking it one day at a time at Ellender and are enjoying the ride while it last.
For guys like Singleton, Creppel and Luchien, it’s just good to see a lopsided scoreboard tilted in their favor every once in a while.
“I love to play, but it’s nice to have the fourth quarter off,” Creppel said with a laugh. “It feels awesome to be able to relax every once in a while.”
“This is just unbelievable,” Singleton added. “What we’re doing is just awesome. To rise from the bottom where we were and to fight back and have some success – it’s just great man.”
“We’re building a legacy,” Luchien said. “We’re going to be a powerhouse.”
The Ellender football team shows some pride before Thursday’s game against Albany. Patriot Pride has been on display often this season as Ellender has turned around its luck and has emerged as one of the area’s top teams.