This is the fourth prep football season that I’ve been lucky enough to cover as the Tri-Parish Times’ sports editor.
Since my first days back in this area, I must admit: I’ve been truly blessed. In the past three years, some amazing teams have come through our areas – squads that have been filled with some wonderful players and great kids.
In 2010, Terrebonne, Patterson and Vandebilt were the teams that earned the lion’s share of my coverage.
The Tigers rolled through the regular season with just one loss and won a Class 5A playoff game. Led by brothers Mike and Justin Williams, that Terrebonne team was a joy to watch – they truly put on a show on every Friday night.
The Williams-to-Williams connection was fun – it represented everything that makes sports great. Mike was the team’s quarterback and Justin was the Tigers’ elite receiver. When they played, it just felt like two youngsters in the backyard tossing the pigskin around. Those games were some I’ll remember forever.
And then there were the Lumberjacks. From Justice Jones to LSU standouts Kenny Hilliard and Lorenzo Phillips, Patterson rose to the top of the pack and reached the Superdome for the Class 3A Finals. They didn’t win the championship, but they did the entire community proud. Watching those guys play just left the stadium in awe – those in attendance just knew they were witnessing great players in action.
To this day, those Lumberjacks remain the most dominant and talented prep football team that I’ve ever been around.
Ah, and then there was Vandebilt. The Terriers started the season 3-1 – including a thrilling victory against E.D. White on the opening night of the year. But after the dominant start, tragedy struck the program and the entire community when four students were killed in a tragic automobile accident following an LSU game.
Among those killed in the wreck was T.J. Cantrelle – the Terriers’ starting quarterback at the time. His teammate Ian Haydel was also killed, as were classmates Megan Hitt and Gabrielle Hebert. The terrible news of the Vandebilt crash struck the entire area’s heart, splattering it into pieces. The subsequent tributes for the victims left eyes watered.
But in the face of tragedy, Vandebilt rose up and pushed forward. The Terriers made the playoffs in 2010 and won a game while there. The strength, courage and perseverance of that team is one of the most admirable things I’ve witnessed in my entire life – much less my four years with this paper.
In 2011, things cooled and we didn’t see a dominant local team.
But last year, it quickly heated back up again and I was on my toes deep into the playoffs.
South Lafourche finished the 2012 season unbeaten with a 9-0 record. Vandebilt also was a sight to see – a squad that featured All-Everything quarterback Elijah McGuire, who razzled, dazzled and overwhelmed opponents with his elusiveness and playmaking ability.
The Terriers reached the Class 4A Quarterfinals and played a road tilt with Neville – a trip I was blessed enough to make with the team.
While on the bus to and from the stadium with those coaches and players, I could sense that I was around a wonderful group of young men.
Vandebilt did not win its game with Neville – the Tigers just possessed too much college-level talent. But the Terriers still did themselves proud and made a lasting impression on its opponents.
So as we sit today – halfway through the 2013 season – I’m still waiting for the great team(s) to rise up from the ash and establish themselves among the elites in Louisiana.
At the beginning of the season, I would have predicted that Thibodaux would have been the best of the bunch.
The Tigers have elite halfback Donta Johnson and a slew of playmakers – an offense capable of hanging crooked numbers on just about anyone.
But while Thibodaux may still be the team I expected them to be, their inability to win close games is troubling. Losses to Vandebilt and Hahnville in the late minutes have many rethinking their preseason predictions.
Following their win against Thibodaux, most gave Vandebilt the throne as the area’s new top team.
But since that win, the Terriers have stumbled in recent weeks. Vandebilt struggled to beat a weak St. James team in one week. In the next, they were then blown out at home.
Just across the street from Vandebilt, Terrebonne had the attention of many locals following a 3-0 start – most of those wins coming in blowout fashion.
But the Tigers’ talk has since cooled after Destrehan came into Houma and scored an easy win against Terrebonne.
That leaves many thinking Patterson is the best in the Tri-parishes.
But the Jacks’ defense still is a bit soft. Allowing 66 points to East Ascension is troubling – especially when one considers that it happened on St. Mary Parish soil.
So with five weeks to go in the season, the nominees are out there for 2013’s great team.
All we need now is for one squad to rise above the pack and take the throne.
The past three seasons have been magical – I’ve had the time of my life chasing some of the best local teams in recent years.
No pressure guys, no pressure.
But you certainly have really big shoes to fill.