The Morgan City football team tasted success in 2011.
Now, they are hungry for more.
One season after re-energizing their program with a 5-5 season, the Tigers stress that they want to take the next step and reach the playoffs – a feat that has not been accomplished for the St. Mary Parish school since 1999.
“Having some success is always a good thing, obviously,” Morgan City coach Brandon Nowlin said. “But in the process of building any program, you’ve got to move onto the next challenge. For us, we need to build on what we did last year and move to the next challenge and get into the playoffs. That’s something that we absolutely are looking to do.”
Aside from last season’s turnaround, the biggest reason for optimism in Morgan City is experience.
The Tigers will return eight players on offense – a group led by quarterback Hoang Nguyen.
A tough, gritty quarterback, Nowlin said the soft-spoken Nguyen is the heart of the team’s offensive efforts.
Nguyen led the team to a 5-2 record last season before being knocked out in Week 8 with a concussion.
The Tigers lost three-straight games without Nguyen and missed the playoffs.
“That’ll show you how valuable he is,” Nowlin said. “He’s so important to our offense and our football team. He’s got a lot of athleticism and he can throw it a little, too. He’s a great kid.”
Halfback Eric Walker agreed and said the team feeds off its quarterback.
“He brings a lot to our team,” Walker said. “Without him, it’s just not the same team. “He controls the team.”
To keep Nguyen “in control of the team,” Nowlin said he will encourage Nguyen to run less this year compared to in 2011.
The quarterback said he hears his coach’s advice, but cannot make any promises.
“In the heat of the game, it’s all instinct,” Nguyen said with a laugh. “I can’t say what I will or won’t do until it happens. I don’t think about that in the game. I just do it.”
Defensively, the Tigers will also have a lot of experience and will return seven starters.
That group will be led by All-District defensive lineman Joseph Jones, Walker, linebacker Devonte Gabriel and cornerback Robert Williams.
Walker is the team’s two-time reigning defensive MVP and is on pace to have another strong season.
Nowlin also lauded the work of Williams, who he believes can anchor the team’s secondary.
“He’s a sawed-off kid. He’s not really big or tall,” Nowlin said. “But he’s very physical and very aggressive and plays with a very high motor. We expect big things from him.”
As a whole, Gabriel said he believes the team’s entire defense will be better this season.
“We’re looking good,” he said. “We’re hitting and are working on being more physical. We’re working on rushing to the football and attacking as much as we can. I think that with a little bit more time to gel, it will all work out.”
Gelling is something that Morgan City’s team has had a lot of time to do.
Nowlin said the team’s turnaround has been part of a multi-year process.
When he took over the program in 2010, he said he made the conscious decision to start from scratch and play a lot of young players knowing that by 2012, the same kids would be two and three-year starters.
The Tigers took plenty of licks early during their experiment.
“A lot of those games weren’t very fun,” Nowlin said with a laugh.
But now, the Tigers are the big cats on the block and are more experienced than most of their opponents.
Having 15-20 games of experience to pool from is invaluable.
“They don’t scare easily anymore,” Nowlin said.
“We’ve been through pretty much every situation,” Walker said. “It’s hard to give us something that we haven’t already seen.”
Except, of course, the playoffs.
The Tigers missed the Field of 32 by just one win last season and are trying to fight history and get into postseason play this year.
Nowlin believes his team is capable of doing it.
“We think we’re going to be a better football team this year,” Nowlin said. “We have to learn how to adjust better to adversity inside of games and find ways to not make mental mistakes to cost ourselves points. That really plagued us last year. I thought we lost games because of small mistakes. In games we won, I think we could have won by larger amounts if not for mental errors. But we think we’re going to be better.”
The players have a more definitive answer.
“This year has to be the year,” Gabriel said. “It just has to be. We were close last year and now we want to get the full taste of it this year.”
“We have to go to the playoffs,” Nguyen added. “There really isn’t any other option.”