South Terrebonne football coach Richard Curlin would be the first to admit that his team’s defense last season wasn’t elite.
The Gators finished the year with a 3-6 record and allowed 27 or more points in seven games.
“Last year, we just couldn’t stop anybody,” Curlin said. “I think the easiest way to say it to make people understand it is to say that we were like the Saints defensively. We just couldn’t get the opponent off the field without them getting points.”
But with seven returning starters on that side of the ball, Curlin believes his Gators will be better suited to keeping opponents out of the end zone in the new season.
Polishing that unit is the main focus of the team’s efforts as South Terrebonne rolls through fall practices and inches closer to its opening night game with H.L. Bourgeois on Sept. 6.
“I think we’ve made progress – practices have been going pretty good,” Curlin said. “We’re just going to keep working and seeing how much better we can get. Hopefully, that progress will show and you’ll be able to see a difference on the scoreboard this fall.”
Youth was the main culprit behind the Gators’ woes last year.
Curlin said South Terrebonne started nine sophomores throughout both sides of the football last year.
The Gators coach has been in his current post for more than two decades.
He said he has never seen a youth movement like South Terrebonne experienced in 2012.
“We knew that we were going to take our lumps last year,” Curlin said. “We had nine sophomores in the starting lineup. That was rare for us. Since I’ve been here, I don’t think we’ve ever been in a position to where we’ve had to start more than two. We struggled and it was just because of the youth. But those kids are back and they carry with them the lessons that they learned last year. I think they’ll be ready to take the next step to progress.”
Because of the growing pains, Curlin said the Gators’ linebackers are now experienced.
Senior linebacker David McCormick and junior Gage Ross are players that the coach believes will step up and make plays within the unit.
“I think those two are players that I think you can say are ready to have a solid year,” Curlin said.
Along the defensive line, the Gators will return junior defensive tackle Randall Norman and senior defensive end Jermaine Washington.
In the secondary, junior Adam Cook is back. He is joined by junior Devin Harding.
Curlin said he is excited to see how all of the returnees fare.
“We have returnees at every position,” Curlin said. “I think overall, we will be better from top-to-bottom from the line to the backers to the defensive backs.”
Offensively, the Gators return four starters from last year’s team.
Junior halfback Christian Wallis will be the team’s most explosive returning playmaker. Wallis led the Gators in rushing last season and possesses both power and speed in the backfield.
South Terrebonne also returns its leading receiver from last season, senior tight end Chandler Arceneaux.
In the trenches, South Terrebonne returns 2012 starters Dyon Perque and Dylan Adams.
“We’re going to build around our experienced players on that side of the ball,” Curlin said. “We think that the kids that we have back are all going to be able to make a difference for us this season.”
While the Gators have a lot of familiar faces on the gridiron, they will have some unfamiliar foes on their schedule.
South Terrebonne opens its schedule with H.L. Bourgeois and Terrebonne on back-to-weeks.
After that local tour, the Gators play John McDonough, Belle Chasse and Warren Easton before the start of district play.
In the season finale, the Gators will host Cecilia.
“We’ve got a couple of the same old traditional rival games, but then we got some games with some teams that we’ve never played before. So that will be interesting. Those are teams we have no history with. We will have to line up and play those, too and see how it all turns out.”
History or no history, the Gators need to be better equipped to keep their opponents out of the end zone in the new season. The coach said he believes when it’s all said and done, everything will fall into place.
“Hopefully we don’t have to score as many points as we had to last year because we just couldn’t keep up,” Curlin said. “But everything is going great so far, and I think we’re going to be a much better defensive football team.
“Last year was a tough year, but like I said, we had a feeling it was going to be. With young kids, they take their lumps early, rebound and then come back better. That’s what we’re hoping is going to happen here this year with us.”
South Terrebonne quarterback Matt Benoit readies himself for a pass during the team’s scrimmage with Thibodaux. The Gators hope to have an improved defense this season. That should take a burden off Benoit and the Gators’ offense.