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River Parish contingent play huge role in Southland title for Nicholls

  • Tags:
  • Alumni
  • Feature Story
  • By:
  • George Becnel
  • Posted:
  • November 16, 2018 - 9:55am

Evan Veron (left), formerly of Riverside Academy, and Aquindas Steib, who played at St. James, played big roles in helping Nicholls win the Southland Conference title.

THIBODAUX - They denied Sully Laiche a touchdown but not his conference championship.

The junior defensive lineman raced 53 yards along the Nicholls sideline in the second quarter after recovering what appeared to be a lateral. The play was called an incomplete pass upon review, wiping out the score by the former star defender from Lutcher.

“I saw Evan (Veron) go for the quarterback and then I saw the running back peel out. I said, ‘flash green.’ I covered him up and he (Southeastern Louisiana quarterback Chason Virgil) threw it, which I thought was a backwards pass, but after the review, it wasn’t. I saw the end zone and I had all these blockers with me so I just knew I was going to get there,” said Laiche.

With an offense scoring early and often, Nicholls didn’t really need Laiche’s points as the Colonels defeated Southeastern Louisiana 44-0 Thursday night at Guidry Stadium to claim the Southland Conference title. It is the first conference title for the Colonels since 2005 when they shared the crown with Texas State.

Nicholls conclude the regular season 8-3, including 7-2 in league play. Incarnate Word only played six Southland games and finished 6-2. With each team having two league losses, the two share the conference title but with Nicholls winning in head-to-head against Incarnate Word, the Colonels received the SLC’s automatic bid to the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.

“I have no words for it,” Laiche said of being conference champions. “It’s just remarkable seeing the hard work really pay off. From getting up at five o’clock and ‘Mardi Gras Mayhem,’ to staying until 11 at night watching extra film, it’s just remarkable.”

“I’m very, very excited and very happy for those guys who are in the locker room and proud of them,” said fourth-year Nicholls coach Tim Rebowe. “Some guys came in here a couple of years ago for a program that was down and they believed. They came in and worked and now look at them four years later – conference champs.”

One of those guys was defensive back Ahmani Martin out of East St. John.

“When Coach Rebowe was recruiting me at (Louisiana-Lafayette, where Rebowe was then an assistant coach) and he got the job over here, he asked me, ‘Will you come and help me turn the program around? Martin recalled. “I did not second guess to say ‘yes.’

“At the time. I didn’t know anything about Nicholls. I didn’t know about the 0-12 season. I didn’t know any of that. All I knew was Coach Rebowe at the time. I knew we were going to win but it coming my senior year, it couldn’t come at a better time.”

The win was especially sweet for senior linebacker Hezekiah White. A native of Boutte who prepped at John Curtis, White had endured a 0-12 season a year prior to Rebowe’s arrival.

“I’m at a loss for words,” said White. “I give a lot of credit to Coach Rebowe. When he came in, the coaching was good. We kind of had a losing coach. He (Rebowe) came him and turned it around. He and that coaching staff, they recruited a great group of guys. You have guys like Ahmani Martin, who came in and really helped to turn the ship around, and I really appreciate it.”

“A guy like Hezekiah White pops into my head. Those were guys that were here on an 0-12 team. There were like 10 or 12 here. Those were the ones I was looking for and grabbing (after the game). That was the lowest of lows when those guys were here. These guys came with us and stuck it out and believed in it. It wasn’t like,’ hey, you are from the old team,’ everybody was starting over and starting fresh. I was so happy for those guys who stuck with it,” said Rebowe.

Those days were hard indeed for someone like White.

“I came from John Curtis and came from high school and we were in the championship every year to going 0-12. It was shell-shock for me. He (Rebowe) came in and he turned it around and I can’t thank him enough for that,” said White.

White, Laiche, and Martin, along with Veron of Riverside Academy, Aquindas Steib of St. James, and Allen Pittman and Austin Dickerson of Destrehan, form the corps of players from the River Parishes that helped to turn the Colonel defense into one of the top units in the nation and transformed Nicholls into a nationally-ranked program.

“That first group that came in with us, there were some really good players,” said Rebowe. “That was with the (Allen) Pittmans and those guys and Ahmani Martin. That second year, we capitalized with Sully (Laiche) and those guys, too.

“They said they came here to win a conference championship. At the time, a lot of people were saying, ‘come on, man, you are coming off 0-12. Those guys believed and worked on it. It’s just a great group of guys.”

The contingent brought a River Parish attitude about football to Bayou Lafourche.

“‘Hez’ (White) went to John Curtis, but he’s from the River Parishes, too. We have Austin Dickerson, we have Sully. Everybody knows Sully is a beast. Everybody knows Evan is a beast. Us, we just take pride. When we were in high school coming out of the River Parishes, we all felt like we were the best where we were at. The same attitude we played with in high school, we brought it to college and to the defense, and that’s the way defense really should be played. It’s like a domino effect, everybody feeds off of everybody,” Martin said.

“As soon as we stepped out on this campus, they knew we had a winning program,” said Laiche. “We took the mindset, ‘we don’t care if you went 0-12, we will bring winners to this team,’ and it showed out this week.”

To a man, Nicholls players say they bought into what Rebowe was telling them from the beginning. But what exactly was the Colonel coach selling?

“He preached that we can be winners but we have to work for it. Nothing is given,” said White. “If you want to be a winner, you have to come out here every day and practice and work for it. Every practice, every offseason and workout, you have to approach it like it’s your last workout. You have to get it. It’s do or die. That’s what really changed it around for us.”

Martin set the early tone in the battle for the River Bell Classic against rival Southeastern Louisiana.

Two plays into the game, a jarring hit by Martin on SLU running back Julius Maracalin forced a fumble that was recovered by Darren Evans at the Lions’ 14-yard line.

“On defense, we call ourselves, ‘Head Busters.’ Every time we hit people, we take pride in knocking them back and take pride on striking them. On the play, I just struck him and the ball just popped out,” said Martin.

On the Colonels’ first play from scrimmage, Dontrell Taylor raced in for a touchdown to give Nicholls a 7-0 lead slightly more than a minute into the game.

The rest will go down as part of Colonel history.

“We were playing for the River Bell trophy; playing for the conference trophy. What else could you ask for as a player? As a kid coming up, I was a winner, but I never won a ring, so this today, coming in, knowing the opportunity we had coming up, we just knew we had to take full advantage of everything, every way,” Martin 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.