When high school football players gather to practice at this time of year, it usually means “spring at last” in the River Parishes.
For the St. James Wildcats on Wednesday afternoon, it was more like “the last spring.”
Because St. James will be moving into its new campus in Vacherie later in May in anticipation of the 2018-19 school year, the Wildcats had to push up spring football practice.
“Because of the move and all that and trying to get the field house ready and everything ready once school finishes, it kind of forces up to start a little sooner than normal,” St. James coach Robert Valdez said.
Along with Valdez conducting earliest spring drills ever, the veteran coach also will field one of youngest teams of his coaching career.
“I think we have maybe 10 seniors. I think we only have three offensively. It gives us a chance to kind of start early and finish a little bit earlier and then we get a chance to get organized to move and then start our summer a little earlier,” the St. James coach said.
Although young, Valdez said he likes the current group of Wildcats.
“I’m excited about the kids. Right now, we are trying to identify leaders. The effort is there and the discipline is there. When you start off like that, you just have to be patient because they will make mistakes. It will take a little longer to learn things and for them to get to game speed,” said Valdez.
That makes this year’s spring practice very much an educational exercise.
“We only have two running plays. We basically have five plays. If we can master five plays by the end of spring, that will be good for me,” said Valdez, whose team put on pads for the first time during spring drills Wednesday. “There is a lot of teaching and a lot of fundamentals. There’s a lot of game speed. A lot of these guys were junior varsity players. A lot of these guys would have played when he had substantial leads, which didn’t happen at all because of our tough schedule.”
Dealing with a young group, Valdez has his squad practicing three times a week during spring drills. We will have the same schedule for three weeks and then we are going to against St. Aug and Helen Cox and see what we can do,” the St. James coach said.
The Wildcats will face both St. Augustine and Helen Cox at Tulane’s Yulman Stadium in New Orleans on May 12.
Until then, this group of Wildcats will be the last to conduct spring practice on the game field of the current campus. More than 70 years worth of St. James football players went through spring drills on the same field.
“I’m trying to squeeze as much of it as I can. It really is a little bit nostalgic when you sit back and look at all the history and all the things that have happened here. The guys that played through here, the coaches and all the teams that have come through here…you look around and we are going to miss this. We will try as best we can when we move to the new school to bring something (of the old school) with us,” Valdez said.