- Feature Story
- George Becnel
- December 09, 2016 - 1:23pm
From the moment the Lutcher players walked off the Superdome turf a year ago as state champions, there was a feeling among many that the Bulldogs would be back, especially when looking over an offense that would return the likes of quarterback Jontre Kirklin, receivers Al’Dontre Davis and Gregory Clayton, plus running back Daevon Adams.
If there was any doubt about the Bulldogs’ attempt to become the first team in school history to repeat as state champions, it came on the defensive side of the ball.
Lutcher lost seven starters from the team that walked off the Superdome turf in 2015. Among them was defensive lineman Sully Laiche, one of the greatest defensive players in school history.
Laiche was considered a bit too small for the elite college programs but went on to be one of the top freshmen in all of the Football Championship Subdivision level after a stellar 2015 season at Nicholls.
While some of the major college programs may not have notice is the huge shadow Laiche still casts with the Lutcher football program.
With Laiche gone, the Bulldogs had to develop new schemes on defense to fit the 2016 personnel.
“We don’t have big Sully plugging up every hole but we have a lot more movement going on and we have a lot of just being over the top of everything and everybody just doing what they’ve got to do and just playing assignment football,” said Lutcher defensive back Ethan Bland.
Bland, along with Dylan Recotta, Thaddeus Watis and Rashaun Preston are the four senior defensive starters who returned to try and guide the Bulldogs to consecutive state titles in the wake of graduation losses of players such as Laiche, Ben St. Pierre and Tyler Williams – the stalwarts of the 2015 Lutcher state champions.
“It’s four guys who have heard since last year that there was no way that our defense could be as good without Sully Laiche, without Ben St. Pierre and without Tyler Williams. You lose seven starters on the defensive side of the ball and you bring four guys back. Those guys, from Day One in the weight room, basically believed we could do this,” Lutcher coach Dwain Jenkins said.
Bland is the Lutcher player who walks into the weight room as mild-mannered Clark Kent but steps onto the field as Superman.
“He’s kind of Jekyll and Hyde in a lot of ways,” Jenkins said. “Ethan Bland is one of the best students in our building. He has a great ACT score. He’s a great kid and he’s probably the guy every coach in school would want to date their daughter. He’s the guy that every teach loves and then he gets out on the field and he just plays nasty as all get out.
“When you think about Ethan and what he does all day long and the kid he is and he goes out of his way in the flood and all the things we had going on at the beginning of the year, he’s volunteering non-stop, 14-15 hours a day helping people sandbagging houses and then he gets on the field and a switch gets flipped and he’s the guy we always have to pull in the reins with personal fouls and taking shots at guys. He plays with that mean streak and for another undersized guy on the defensive side of the ball, it’s great to have that attitude but Ethan is able to do is because of his intelligence and the way he studies the game, he is a coach on the field.”
“The mindset whenever you get on the field just has to change,” said Bland. “Who I am on the field is different from what I am in everyday life. Being one of the smaller guys on the field and not being the biggest, fastest or strongest, I have to let them know I’m there. Let them know I’m ready to play, ready to hit and I just there.”
As a 5-foot-9, 170-pound safety, Recotta is another of those undersized Lutcher-type players that makes his presence felt on the field by playing with reckless abandon, along with being the unit’s emotional leader.
“I just make sure everybody puts forth their best effort and make everybody do the right thing and always give 100 percent. I just make sure I do whatever it takes to get somebody down not matter what it takes,” Recotta said.
“You can’t tell him he’s not a great football player. He may be 5-9, 5-10, 170 pounds but he’s not afraid of anything. He throws his body around and he’s not always the most orthodox player at his position. Sometimes, he gambles, but he makes big plays,” said Jenkins.
It’s something opposing coaches and players take note of.
“I know that each and every week after a game, he’s the guy the opposing head coach is seeking out to congratulate him because they enjoyed watching him on film because the one thing you see from Dylan Recotta is just the passion he has for playing the game of football. He plays so hard that he has gained the respect of every team we have played this year,” Jenkins said.
Watis has gone through a position change his senior year, moving from defensive line to linebacker.
“Thaddeus is a kid who shows up and puts in a good day’s work every single day and you know this is something that means a lot to him. He has a lot of natural ability and he’s been able to hone it in now that he’s playing a bit more under control,” said Jenkins. “Last year when he was playing defensive end, he could let his athleticism take over but now he’s having to play a little more disciplined and have a lot more responsibility and since he’s been able to handle that, it’s made us a better defense.”
“It’s fun,” Watis said of playing linebacker. “I like to be physical and I like the game. I had to get faster and stronger and my coaches put me in position to do that.”
Preston has been one of the most consistent Bulldogs in 2016.
“He played in the middle of the defense last year so the joke was that he never got blocked because everybody had to take care of Sully. It was one of those things where it was easy to make tackles when nobody is around but his has shown his physical toughness and grit,” Jenkins said of Preston. “When I got here, he played his whole junior year 10-15 pounds heavier than what he is playing right now. He had an illness that hit him late January and wasn’t able to work out and probably lost 20 pounds. He’s gained some of it back but he’s playing a lot lighter than what he was last year but he’s physically tough. He plays middle linebacker for us when we are in our 4-3 and he’s our leading tackler. He’s learned to play when maybe everything is not as clean and does have to take on some blockers. He’s been a guy you can count on and get his 10-12 tackles every night.”
“I had more tackles than last year because with (Laiche) gone, everything is coming to me so I’m basically the base of the defense,” said Preston.
While there may have been doubts early, hard work has helped to solidify the legacy of the 2016 seniors.
“We just came back knowing we had to grind harder,” said Recotta. “We lost some key players but we had a lot of people step up. They did a good job and now we are surprising a lot of people. We are showing that if we work hard enough we can be a good defense.”
“We just found a way to just make it work. We had to have a lot of focus and intensity and just work as a team and found a way to make it happen. I know a lot of people doubted us but we believed in ourselves,” Watis said.
Lutcher won six state championships prior to last year’s title. Like the 2015 Bulldogs, most of Lutcher’s state championships teams were junior laden and returned key players the following year.
Three previous defending champs at Lutcher managed to reach the semifinals but no team actually reached the championship game following a previous title except for the 2016 Bulldogs.
“It’s a great position to be in,” said Preston. “We have to focus this whole week so we can get it.”