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Valdez puts personal record on line in annual Railroad Classic game

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  • George Becnel
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  • August 30, 2017 - 10:03am

File photosSt. James' defense faces a formidable challenge taking on West St. John's big offensive line in Friday night's Railroad Classic rivalry game in Edgard.

No, they will not change the name of the Railroad Classic Trophy to the Robert Valdez Trophy should St. James defeat rival West St. John on Friday but he pretty much owns the award.

Valdez has never lost to his rival since the inception of the award in 2013. He was 2-0 as coach of West St. John and won last year in his debut as St. James coach. The only time Valdez has not possessed the award was his year away from the River Parishes as head coach at Scotlandville.

“That would be pretty nice,” Valdez laughed at the thought of the award name change. “It would probably be the only thing that would have my name on it other than my driver’s license.”

Whatever side Valdez has to be on or whatever the outcome, the St. James-West St. John is one of the premier rivalries to open the prep football season.

“It’s good to be in a program where you have rivalries because that means you must have been winning at some point,” Valdez said. “It’s exciting. We have a really good brand of football in River Parish football that is recognized throughout the whole state.

“This year West St. John is primed to do some very good things. They have a lot of kids coming back and Coach (Brandon) Walters is in his third year and is really doing a good job. It will be a great, great opportunity to see where we are early. Sometimes you don’t get big games like this early in the season. We just have to be prepared to go in there and get after it.”

As always, West St. John features an abundance of versatile skilled position players. What the Rams also possess is an offensive line that may be the envy in all of Class 1A football.

The Rams return four seniors to a massive offensive line. The lone non-senior, junior guard Hauron Robinson, is the biggest of the group and 6-foot-3 and 300 pounds.

Offensive tackle Calieb Batiste tips the scales at 280 pounds, while center Brett Bailey is 275 and Jayjuan Pierce 255. Tackle Kyree Thorne may be the lightest at 195 but may be the most fit after coming off a summer of National Guard basic training.

“I never had them that big the whole time I was there,” Valdez said of the West St. John offensive line. “They are big and physical and that is something that concerns us a lot. Not only do they have that, they run a very good scheme and they have two running backs that they rotate, Niko Davis and Kylan Duhe, are hard to tackle.”

Davis is one of many two-way players for the Rams. When not at running back, he’s playing linebacker for the Rams.

The Rams are a spread, no-huddle offensive team.

“They run a lot of inside zone. They run a lot of power. They run some misdirection. They do a lot of things that complement other things they do and they do a great job of play-action with the quarterback. You really have to play sound, assignment football against a team that not only is as big as they are but has so much athletic ability,” said Valdez.

The quarterback is sophomore D’andre Gaudia.

“He is a kid that has a lot of confidence. He can definitely move and give them a run threat at quarterback as well as having a real good arm. He doesn’t play like a young kid. He plays the game aggressively,” said Valdez.

Aason Moll gives Gaudia a big target at 6-foot-4. Two-way players such as Alyjah Borne and Dontrell Davis also factor into the passing game.

“West St. John has always been known for playing kids all over the field – offense, defense and special teams. It’s just whoever needs to step up and make a play. Those kids understand their roles and they understand what they bring to the table. That’s what makes them dangerous they are all contributors,” said Valdez.

Like the offense, the Rams are big along the defensive line.

“They have four seniors on their defensive line,” Valdez pointed out. “Horace Lewis is a big, stout, defensive tackle that is very athletic and fast. Jonathan Porter is a speed rusher but he’s very versatile. He can make plays all over the field. Kelon Gardner is very, very quick and doesn’t get blocked long. Covan Barnes may be the best of them all. He’s been playing since the eighth grade. He plays the game mistake free.

“That front four will cause a lot of problems for a lot of people. We just have to make sure we try the best we can to block them.”

The Rams also return a wealth of experience to the secondary. Along with Tre’ Thomas, Aaron Moll, Dontrell Davis and Borne patrol the secondary.

“Thomas and the other corner (Borne), they play man and cover-3 because they have the skill set to do that. Davis at free safety covers a lot of ground. Moll, the strong safety, is a tall guy that also can play physical,” Valdez said.

Preparing for the game has proved challenging due to torrential rain, Valdez said.

“I just want to get out there and play,” the St. James coach said. “Football is something that is our culture. Weather and all that, the good thing now is you look at where we are and how much we have advanced. West St. John has field turf, we have field turf, so barring just rain, it will be the best field conditions possible.”

It will be field conditions that will place Valdez on the opposing sideline at Rudolph Dinvaut Stadium for the first time.

“We have a long season ahead but we take them one game at a time and it will be fun to get back to Edgard and see the game from the opposite sideline. I’ve never seen that before. It will be good.

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.