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First-year coach Dizer, Riverside Rebels face challenges in 2018

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  • George Becnel
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  • August 24, 2018 - 2:25pm

File photoKevin Dizer has moved up from an assistant to head coach for a Riverside team that faces new challenges in 2018.

Things have certainly changed at Riverside Academy.

“I’ve said several times if you had asked me this time last year, ‘are you going to be a head coach anywhere?’ The answer would have been ‘absolutely not.’ It’s not something I was expecting or looking forward to, but you never know when God’s going to call your number. That’s where we’re at and I super excited going into the year,” said Kevin Dizer.

Where the Rebels are at is a situation in which Riverside is sporting its third head coach in three years. After the retirement of Bill Stubbs two years ago, Chris Lachney served as head coach of the Rebels before leaving for an assistant’s position at Southeastern Louisiana University. Dizer served as an assistant under both men before being promoted to the head job.

The newest head coach will be dealing with the smallest roster in quite a while for Riverside, which is coming off a 5-5 record in 2016.

“Our numbers are down and there are a lot of challenges and a lot of negatives, but we just use that stuff to fuel our fire,” Dizer declared. “We have our kids where we want them mentally. Our kids hear the same stuff; they hear all the negativity out there, but they truly are working hard every day and they want to prove people wrong.”

Except for a few veteran holdovers like senior receiver Kash Foley and Wilbert Robertson, a senior defensive lineman, the Rebels are a young squad.

“It is what it is,” said Dizer. “I’ve been here since 2015 and we’ve been able to beat anybody in the state on any given Friday. I feel confident we would be able to line up against a West Monroe and play against them and line up with against the John Ehrets of the world and came up short twice, but we were right there. We lined up against Barbe, De La Salle, you name it. We lined up against the best teams, the Parkview Baptists of the world and we beat a lot of them and came up short in some of them.

“Now we are just at the point where we are in the fight in 2A football. Nobody’s going into it afraid or anything like that. We are just a little different.”

The offense under Dizer will be similar to what the Rebels ran in the recent past.

“We’re going to be a spread, upfield team. New defensive coordinator, Dexter Falgoust, he will call it to what suits him and his kids the best. It will look exactly the same but there will be some tweaks,” said Dizer.

Foley is the definite standout on offense.

“Foley is a football player that plays wide receiver,” Dizer said. “Just get the ball in the kid’s hands and watch him go. It’s that simple. If I was recruiting at a college I would be looking at putting Kash in the backfield as a running back. In today’s spread world, I would just swing the kid the ball out of the backfield, throw it to him on screens and let him go.”

Looking to get Foley the ball is first-year starter Gage Larvadain.

“When a lot of people hear that name, they know it from basketball. Gage is about 5-7, 140 pounds. He’s real small but he’s special,” Dizer said of Larvadain.

Dizer compares Larvadain with a couple of high-profile former college stars.

“When people see him on Friday nights, they are going to think of the Baker Mayfields, the Johnny Manziels. That’s the type of kid he is. His is extremely smart. He knows what he’s doing pre-snap. He knows his reads very well post-snap and then when things break down he just turns into a point guard. He’s running with the football with his eyes downfield and he’s going to find somebody,” said Dizer.

Like Larvadain, several members of the receiving corps are basketball players as well.

“At Riverside, we’ve had a lot of success taking the basketball players and turning them into football players. We have a kid that’s a sophomore, Tairyn Lockhart. Tairyn is about 5-10, 165. He’s a super athletic kid but all he’s ever done is play basketball. We got him to come over to football and he’s doing an exceptional job,” said Dizer.

Lockhart and Isaiah Bigham are the outside receivers.

“Isaiah Bigham has been in the basketball program and is going into his senior year and will do big things in basketball but he’s out playing football for us. He’s about 6-1, 6-2, 170 pounds. He’s a kid that can run and has some ability,” Dizer said.

Joining Foley at the slot position will be Jaylen Watkins.

“Jaylen is going to have a breakout year,” Dizer predicted. “Jaylen is one of the best football players we have. You talk about a kid that can fly and make all the plays with his feet and runs really good routes.

“I feel real good about our receivers, it’s just a matter of getting them the reps on Friday night.”

Louis Cheneau returns at running back for his senior year.

“Louis Cheneau has been getting some spot duty for the past couple of years behind Jeremy Gibson. Once we shut Jeremy down last year (due to injury), Louis ran the ball extremely well and I think he was right at 1,000 yards rushing,” said Dizer.

Behind Cheneau are two sophomores, Chamar Jackson and Nick Washington, both of whom will be starting at linebacker for the Rebels.

Anchoring the offensive line is Cody Pellissier.

“He’s returning for his junior year. He started for us at center last year. He’s the most notable guy on the o-line and is doing a real good job of stepping up, being a leader and learning how to make all the calls. He’s the only one with experience,” Dizer said of Pellissier.

Others on the offensive line include Nathan Faucheaux, Edward Humphrey, Colby Wilson and Myron Nicholas. Robertson and fellow defender Jacob Mullins are also expected to see time on the offensive line.

“We’ve got some kids that can get it done, it’s just they haven’t done it on Friday nights before,” said Dizer.

Nathan Faucheaux will be at one guard, 6-2, 330.

Edward Humphrey is just a kid that’s been in school that we got out (for football). Edward has a lot of ability, he’s just got to learn to play football. 6-1, 200.

The Rebels have been known for their stout 3-4 defense. Because of a different type of personnel, Riverside is switching defenses.

“We have a new defensive coordinator in Coach (Jonathan) Reed. Coach Reed and I were both assistants under Coach Lachney and we learned a lot of defense from him. With Coach Lachney, we played the 3-4. We got a lot out of our investment in the 3-4. It was great for the three or four years we spent together but we just don’t have the kids to do that this year, so we will be going to a 3-3 Stack on defense,” Dizer explained.

One characteristic of the Riverside defense is team speed.

“Our overall numbers are not great, but this could be one of the more athletic teams we’ve ever had. We have a lot of kids that can run so you will see a lot of movements, stunts and different alignments on defense,” said Dizer.

Robertson anchors the defensive line.

“Wilbert is in the best shape I’ve seen him in. Wilbert has always been a good high school football player, but Wilbert has not dominated the way I thought he should have dominated. The light has gone on in his head that it’s time to dominate,” Dizer said.

Mullins joins Robertson on the defensive line.

“He’s a senior who’s a high-motor, blue collar kid,” the coach said of the defensive end.

The other defensive end is Connor Naquin.

Some members of the offensive line also are likely to get some playing time on defense for the Rebels this season.

Take some of the offensive line will also play on the defensive line.

Joining Jackson and Washington as part of the Riverside linebacker corps is fellow sophomore Anthony Fernandez.

“Anthony Fernandez is another sophomore who didn’t play football last year. He concentrated on baseball and we convinced him to come out. Anthony reminds me of the guys we had in the past like Harrison Heckathorn and Trey Catoire,” said Dizer.

Chad James is back for his senior year after coming off a broken ankle.

In the secondary, cornerback Bryan Simmons has gone from a 5-foot-10, 165-pound sophomore to a 6-foot, 185-pound junior.

“Bryan is unbelievable with his work ethic and his leadership. He is unbelievable with his knowledge of the game. He will start at corner but he’s so smart, I could swing him anywhere,” Dizer said.

At the other cornerback position is sophomore Andre Murphy. Murphy is another of the Riverside basketball players.

“He has a lot to learn about football but he’s taking it in stride. He’ll have some Friday nights where it will be rough but what I know about Andre is he will continue to fight,” said Dizer.

At free safety is another player known for playing a different sport in Ahmonte Watkins.

“He is arguably the most talented kid we have. He is Jaylen’s younger brother. If anybody follows track, they know who Ahmonte Watkins is. In track and field, he could certainly be a legend by the time he leaves. I don’t think he lost a race last year in the regular season and then he won state as a freshman in the 200-meter dash and the 100-meter dash” Dizer pointed out.

Also in the mix is David Reynaud, a John Curtis transfer.

Foley and Jaylen Watkins also are expected to see action in the defensive backfield.

Colton Wilson will handle the kicking and punter for the Rebels.

Riverside’s pre-district schedule includes the likes of powerhouses Southern Lab, Barbe, Rummel and De La Salle.

“As the head coach you have to go into it one of two ways. You either accept on the front end you can’t beat those people and just try to get everybody in and get you kids better or you can prepare your kids to win it,” Dizer said. “We are going at them to win. If we come up short, we come up short. I can’t coach them as hard as I do in practice and then say it’s OK to lose. I just can’t do that.

“If we go to Southern Lab and we win, guess what, we have to get them ready to play Barbe and do it again. If we lose, we have to get them built back up and go to Barbe.”

Riverside’s district foes include the likes of Newman and Country Day. In all, it’s a formidable task for a young group of Rebels that lacks depth.

“What our record will be, I couldn’t tell you. I think there is no reason why we shouldn’t win the district championship. You take all the negatives you want and put them in the hat, I’m still telling you there is no reason why we shouldn’t win the district championship and make a run at this thing,” Dizer said.

George Becnel | .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

George Becnel is an award-winning journalist and has been a sports writer and editor for more than 30 years.