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Valdez: youthful Wildcats ‘have tremendous opportunity, potential’

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  • By:
  • George Becnel
  • Posted:
  • August 24, 2018 - 2:51pm

Like the new St. James High campus in Vacherie, coach Robert Valdez believes his young Wildcats have "tremendous opportunity."


Dealing with the youngest team he has ever coached, Robert Valdez considers his squad analogous to the new St. James High campus.

After literal years in the making, students are now attending school at the Vacherie location.

“I’m real excited. It’s like this new school. It gives us a chance to grow. We have a tremendous opportunity and tremendous potential,” the third-year Wildcat coach said.

Coming off a 9-4 season, the Wildcats have 16 seniors after losing a senior class of 24. St. James lost eight starters on defense and seven on offense. Although the Wildcats will be young, the team will not do much differently on offense or defense, according to Valdez.

“We are just not going to do as much until we get rhythm,” Valdez explained. “We kind of condensed the playbook. We are trying to give Shamar Smith the confidence at quarterback. He’s a very athletic kid and we want him to start seeing the game as a quarterback and not just as an athlete.

“We still run our offense and still be a spread (attack) but we just won’t do as much as in the past.”

Smith goes into his junior year with a number of starts under his belt due mainly to an epidemic of injuries to the quarterback position the past two seasons at St. James.

Highly-touted quarterback Lowell Narcisse missed almost all of his junior and senior seasons in 2015 and 2016, respectively, with injuries to both knees. That made a starter of quarterback-in-waiting Demarcus Williams. Williams, who was projected to be the starter in 2017, found himself behind center a couple of years ahead of schedule.

Last season, Williams was injured four weeks into the season, making Smith the starter.

“It’s crazy how it happens here. It must be something along the river or something,” Valdez said. “It’s been like that with Lowell and then with Demarcus and now with Shamar. I would just like to have him for a whole solid year.

“Going into his junior year, at most places, it’s when you are starting to crack the lineup. Here, (Smith) has had a lot of experience. He played a lot as a freshman and a lot as a sophomore. Going into his junior year, the game should hopefully slow down for him a little bit.”

Because of his athletic ability, St. James found a way to get Smith on the field at receiver while being the next quarterback-in-waiting. Now, he gets to concentrate on just being the quarterback.

“This year, the focus has strictly been on quarterback,” said Valdez. “We know he can run but at the same time, we want to have a consistent approach whereas we are moving the chains and moving the sticks and not just hoping on big plays. We don’t want to just have hit or miss big plays. We want to build some type of stability and drives.

“With a young guy, you have to make him understand to take what the defense is giving him and keep the chains moving. Playing the game more cerebrally is a lot more important for him than it was before.”

It won’t hurt Smith’s cause to have several capable runners when the hands the ball off.

“Dontaz Sterling and Antoine Jackson are seniors. Dontaz is a guy we relied heavily on last year. He’s a little bit bigger, thicker back. He can run inside the tackles and is hard to bring down. Sean Lebeouf is another scatback, but he can run inside the tackles as well. He’s not that big but he runs very physical. Antoine is a little bit bigger than both of them. Antoine is strictly a north-south type of guy,” Valdez said.

The Wildcats have had several go-to receivers the past few years. St. James will boast more of a receiver-by-committee corps because of its youth at the position this season.

Among the receivers is Logan Gravois, who say playing time a year ago.

She’n Joseph is expected to see a lot of action this year. Others include Shazz Preston, the younger brother of Shawn, who is now at Mississippi State, transfer Tyshon Williams, Marquell Bergeron and Jonathan Wilson. The receiving corps consists of all underclassmen.

“It’s a good, young, talented group that just needs to get hit to see if they can handle it,” Valdez said of his receivers.

Rahik Fleming will anchor the offensive line for the Wildcats.

“He’s a defensive lineman that we moved to center,” Valdez explained. “He and Daniel King are two seniors we will rely heavily upon. Another kid that’s a sophomore, Greg Rounds. He’s a very athletic kid. The biggest one of all is Donald Nelson. We call him ‘Big Country.’ Donald is about 6-4, 270 and will play left tackle. Right now, we have two guys fighting for the right tackle spot, Jaquon Jones and Deontae Brooks.

“We have six guys we feel comfortable with. You would like to go in with eight and we have a couple of young guys.”

Along with quantity, the Wildcats lost a lot of quality starters from last year’s defense.

“Defensively, when you lose a Jason Dumas, a Shawn Preston, a Chase Davis, a Kyren Harry, a Glen Brown – all those guys are on somebody’s college roster right now – when you lose those guys, it’s like taking a punch in the gut,” said Valdez.

The Wildcats will field a tall, lean defensive line.

Savion Jones is a 6-foot-4, 200-pound sophomore. Chase Geason is 6-foot-4 and transfer DeAndre’ Keller is a shade over 6-feet and 270 pounds. Others include Jaheim Jones and 6-foot-5 Craig James.

“We look like a basketball team on defense because they are tall and rangy,” Valdez joked.

At 250 pounds, freshman Jace Phillip also will be in the mix.

“He’s going to get beat up early and bruised early and once he grows up, he will be pretty good,” Valdez said of Phillip.

The linebackers include junior Lamon Lewis and sophomore Kaleb Brown.

“Sometimes we may line up with Chase Geason at linebacker with our 3-3 Stack package, which is more or less our base defense,” Valdez noted.

Arum Joseph, DeAndra Harry and Tyler Steib are the safeties. The cornerbacks include Brad Batiste and Tai’Rhys Smith.


The safeties, we have Arum Joseph and DeAndra Harry.

Corners are Brad Batiste and Tai’Rhys Smith with Tyler Steib at free safety.

Tylon Bastian also is in the secondary while K’Ron and Joel Cooper provide depth.

“We have a lot of fast guys. I hope we just don’t get tired running fast,” Valdez said

Alec Mahler is back to perform the kicking duties.

“He seems like he’s an old veteran by now but he’s just in ninth grade, Alec Mahler. By the time he gets to be a senior, it will be illegal. It’s a great asset, especially when you get inside the 30 and you can just get enough to just try for a field goal. It helps you manage the game a whole lot better when you have that availability,” said Valdez.

Zach Folse also does some kicking for the Wildcats.

The Wildcats’ pre-district schedule opens with rivals West St. John, Lutcher and E.D. White.

“I’m a firm believer that iron sharpens iron,” Valdez said of the tough schedule. “I believe your program will (rise) itself to the level of competition you are playing. Playing West St. John, playing Lutcher and E.D. White in those first three games…I remember last year we had a veteran team and all those games came down to the fourth quarter and E.D. White came in overtime.”

After those three games, the Wildcats host Wossman before visiting St. Amant to close out non-district play.

“We tell our kids all the time we are going in with the mentality that we will win every game. Those games will make us better. I saw my kids get better as a program by playing these people. You can play people and pad your win total and not have much to show for is. We are playing the games people want to see. We want to pack the stadiums and play good football,” Valdez said.

St. James opens district play with Donaldsonville, another rival, and closes with River Parish foe St. Charles Catholic. In the middle of those game is a trip to powerhouse De La Salle.

“We tell our kids all the time we are going in with the mentality that we will win every game. Those games will make us better. I saw my kids get better as a program by playing these people. You can play people and pad your win total and not have much to show for is. We are playing the games people want to see. We want to pack the stadiums and play good football,” Valdez said.

Although the Wildcats may be young this year, the expectations don’t change at St. James, according to Valdez.

“The expectations here are high. That’s why you come to this program,” the St. James coach said. “You have to make a run at a state championship. You have to make a run at the district championship. Your kids have to know that every week who we are and the traditions that have been set and we will get everybody’s best. Nobody will feel sorry about our youth and nobody is going to sit up there, ‘Oh, Coach Valdez is a nice guy.’ That’s not going to happen. Those suckers are going to smell blood and they want to come in for the kill.”

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.