- Feature Story
- George Becnel
- August 20, 2017 - 2:11pm
Hahnville coach Nick Saltaformaggio loves to sing the praises of Anthony “Pooka” Williams.
“You hate to say he is a once in a lifetime guy because you hope you get them more often but he truly has special, special talents,” Saltaformaggio said of Williams. “It’s almost like the five-tool baseball player. He’s kind of a five-tool football player. He can run inside with power. He can obviously run outside because of his tremendous speed. He has unbelievable hands. He can catch the ball vertically running down the field and having to chase him horizontally to the sideline through traffic. Something I hope people don’t get too far away from is kicking the ball to him. His punt return and kickoff returns are just dynamic.”
Williams, a Kansas Jayhawk commitment, topped 1,000 yards rushing a year ago and had more than 800 yards receiving and scored seven touchdowns in each category. He also was a whiz on special teams with six touchdowns.
The fourth-year Hahnville coach also likes to point out that the 2017 Tigers will be more than just Williams.
“It’s great to have him back and he’s obviously been a tremendous asset for our football program but more so than any other year since I have been here, we have other weapons,” Saltaformaggio said. “Jha’quan Jackson can really run. Michael Gray can really, really go get it. Jamel Byrd, I think, will be a spectacular football player for us. We have a couple of young kids, Daryle Evans and Brandon Comardelle, who can really, really fly.
“We have more assets offensively than we’ve ever had before. Even in our receiving corps, Termon Nash is a kid that will have a big year for us. Brandon Johnson is a kid that will have a good year for us. Noah Zeringue is a kid that will have a good year for us. There are just more names now of guys that we know than can play on Friday night. It should take some of the burden off of Anthony’s back.”
The key cog, however, may be Jackson, the first-year quarterback and converted receiver.
“If you could model a high school skilled position kid, Jha’quan is that kid,” Saltaformaggio said. “He’s a tremendous leader in our school and an excellent student. He’s a tremendous leader in our locker room. He did not miss anything at all this summer at Hahnville. He worked his Hahnville football workouts around the camp circuit he went on and the 7-on-7’s he participated in. He’s a kid who has presence of our football program.”
The presence of Jackson has led to some tweaks to the Hahnville offense, according to Saltaformaggio.
“We will have a lot more quarterback run game. It would be silly not to do it. From a formation standpoint, we will also have some adjustments,” Saltaformaggio explained.
The aforementioned Comardelle and Evans, along with Jace Myers, will do some downhill running to control the clock, according to Saltaformaggio.
“It seems we seem to get those big offensive linemen through here and we need to take advantage of their physical ability to knock people off the football. So, in our backfield, we will have some two-back sets. Jace Myers is a F-back type guy that can run the ball some and is a physically strong kid,” the Hahnville coach said.
For all the skilled position talent Williams and his mates possess, the strength of the Tigers in 2017, according to Saltaformaggio, is the offensive line.
Leaders of the offensive line include Mississippi State commitment Larry Dixon and Torin Borne, a Southern Jaguar commitment. The two seniors are surrounded by younger talent.
“We have some young guys along the interior that I think will be pretty good in D’quinn Butler, who will be a guard for us and Gabe Medina, who will be our center. We have an intriguing kid that we moved over from defense, Edwin Wells, who is really just learning the position but can be pretty special,” assessed Saltaformaggio.
Since Saltaformaggio arrived four years ago, you can pencil in Hahnville for a trip to the Class 5A quarterfinals. For the Tigers to advance beyond that point in 2017, Hahnville will need to be improved on defense, in the estimation of their coach.
“We’ve been pretty prolific offensively. I don’t think anybody can argue that. We went through a string last year of seven games where we scored 40 or more points. Even in the playoff loss (35-28 to John Ehret), we scored 28 and had two drives die in the red zone. Our inability to stop people has been our Achilles heel since I’ve been here. I think the tide is starting to change. I think we have the chance to be a pretty good defensive football team,” said Saltaformaggio.
Leading that tide change is defensive back Hunter Leblanc, a Louisiana-Lafayette commitment.
“We are good at every level; we are not great at any level other than Hunter Leblanc. Hunter is a very, very gifted player. He can run,” Saltaformaggio said.
Joining Leblanc at safety in the Tigers’ 3-3 stack defense are fellow seniors Logan Robert and Laine McCully. The cornerbacks are Syre Lewis and Max Ferrell, a pair of underclassmen.
The leader up front defensively for Hahnville is Lycoy Reynaud, who is entering his third season as a starter.
“He’s not overly big at 215 pounds but he’s our strongest football player physically,” Saltaformaggio noted.
Helping turn the tide on defense could come in the form of a beefed up linebacker corps.
“We will start three kids in our 3-3 stack, Amontae’ Jernigan is 6-1, 205 pounds, Conor Fenerty is 6-1, 215, Dylan Dejean is a smaller kid from a height perspective but he’s 200 pounds,” said Saltaformaggio said.
Dalton Melancon, a returning all-district punter, and kicker Thomas Rasco return for their senior seasons.
Hahnville’s pre-district schedule includes West Jefferson, John Ehret and Brother Martin.
“I think it’s important to set a tone for your football team early,” Saltaformaggio said. “You would like to say at the end of those three weeks, we’d like to be 3-0 going into Destrehan. If we are getting better getting to Destrehan, that’s what counts.
“Other than Destrehan, we have dominated this district. We just can’t get over the hump with Destrehan. At the end of the year, if somebody held my feet to the fire and said, ‘you will be an 8-3 football team and be a Top 6 seed in the playoffs,’ I’d sign the contract right now,’”
As with the past few years, Hahnville opens District 7-5A play against rival Destrehan.
“Week 4, we have to go to Destrehan, again. It seems like every year we go to Destrehan. Just the joy of coaching and the kids getting to play in that rivalry, is unmatched anywhere I’ve ever been. Once that’s done, we have a pretty manageable schedule on the back end,” Saltaformaggio said.
Hahnville’s quest the past few years is to enter the playoffs with a Top 4 seed with the hopes of getting past the Class 5A quarterfinals. The Tigers pretty much know what they have to do to reach that goal, according to Saltaformaggio.
“We will have to beat two of the first three, and then we’ll know,” the Hahnville coach said. “I think all three of those teams will have good records when the year is over. All three of those teams will be playoff-caliber teams. If we can win two of those three and somehow find a way to get over the Destrehan hump, we will be a 9-1 football team. If we are a 9-1 football team, with the schedule we play, we will be a one, two, three or four seed. If not, and we are a 7-3 football team like we were my first two years and 8-2 last year, we will be a seven or eight seed.
“We know what we have to do. I also know that if we get to Week 10 healthy, it doesn’t matter what our record is. We will be a really, really good football team.”