By now, everyone knows the West St. John Rams won the Class 1A state championship in 2017.
Many observers continue the sing the praises of West St. John program, going so far as to say the 2018 Rams may be even better than the state champs of a year ago.
That’s fine and dandy for Brandon Walters, but the Rams’ coach counters that it’s time to move on.
“I’m ignoring it now,” Walters said. “It sounded nice initially and that’s a good complement for the guys but if we continue to buy into just what is said and not work we will be in a bad place. I appreciate it. Thank you, but we have to get out there and play the games and do the work and go week by week and see what happens.”
It’s easy to see why folks are so high on the 2018 Rams as West St. John returns a bevy of players of players off a 12-2 squad that captured a state title.
Chief among them is D’Andre Gaudia. Only a junior, Gaudia has significant time under center as the West St. John quarterback.
“He still has some ways to go in developing but that’s the good part of growing a high school quarterback. He’s doing a great job so far. He’s a leader on the team and we are going to have to play behind him and he will take us as far as we can go.
Whatever the final destination may ultimately be, Gaudia will have a lot of backfield help from Niko Roy and Dylan Duhe in getting there.
Roy, also a rugged senior linebacker, is a bruising runner at 235 pounds.
“Niko is going to pound his way through there, over and around you. He has some speed and he can take it when he gets in the open field,” Walters said.
At 185 pounds, fellow senior Duhe is a different type of back at 185 pounds.
“Kylan Duhe is more of the shifty back. He is more elusive and makes a lot more bigger plays,” said Walters.
The roster numbers are small, yet West St. John has had an uncanny level of depth by having so many interchangeable parts. The running back position is an example as the Rams have a number of guys off the defensive side they can use to give Roy and Duhe a bit of a break.
Dakyri Jackson, Wantrell Williams and Kaejean Kendrick all could be used in the backfield behind the starting duo.
“We will run the ball behind Niko and Duhe and we’ve had a lot of success with it. The other kids will get their touches as well,” Walters said.
A talented and athletic receiving corps is another area where two-way players abound.
Aaron Moll, who played predominately on defense a year ago, is one example.
“It’s the next man up, and this year, we wanted to utilize him on offense and defense. He’s a very athletic kid and he can go up and catch it,” Walters said of 6-foot-1 Moll.
Also back at receiver is junior Trenton Grow.
“Trenton is Trenton. He’s another threat on the outside. Now we have two 6-foot guys with speed that can go and get it with some speedy guys in between,” said Walters.
Carrington Clark, who was on his way to being a key contributor a year ago before suffering an injury, is a returning junior.
“Carrington, skill-wise, footwork and stuff like that, he’s probably the best in that corps of receivers we have,” pointed out Walters. “He can catch the ball real well and he’s a very speedy guy. He’s more effective in the slot but he can play outside on the edges, too. He got hurt last year early-on in the season and he basically was out with a knee injury and he didn’t finish the season. He had started off initially in the summer and was doing real well until he got hurt.”
Amaj Louis, who plays in the secondary on defense, is another candidate to see some action at receiver.
Although 6-foot-3, 315-pound senior Huron Robinson is the only true returning starter on the offense line, that can be a bit misleading.
Small roster numbers, coupled with West St. John’s “next man up” philosophy means many non-starters from the previous season managed to log time, and therefore are no so inexperienced.
One such player is Jalen Walker.
“He played a lot last year at offensive guard. He will play some tackle this year as we move some people around,” Walters pointed out.
Players from the defensive side also will help out on the offensive line.
“We have some guys that go both ways with Jason August and Darien Antonio. They will spell those guys when needed,” said Walters.
The West St. John coach said he really likes his group of linemen.
“They are real strong and physical. They are a nasty bunch of kids. They love the trenches,” said Walters.
Defensively, the Rams feature senior Jonathan Porter up front. Kailep Edwards returns after seeing action a year ago at linebacker and along the defensive line until getting hurt and was unable to finish out the season.
August and Antonio join Porter and Edwards along the defensive line in West St. John’s 4-2-5 alignment.
The secondary is experienced with Jeremiah Downing and familiar names from the offense is Jackson, Grow and Moll.
Also in the mix are Lewis and Williams.
A newcomer to the group is Jaden Hamilton.
“It’s a grouping of kids that we shuffle around and play in multiple positions,” Walters said of the Rams’ secondary.
Roy and Zyron Wilson are returning starters at linebacker.
“They are very physical. I want to play fast, and we are an attack-style defense. We like to get after people and really get physical with them and try to wear you down. We play coverage behind a lot of pressure,” Walters said of his defensive unit.
Porter is the field goal kicker and kicks off. Jackson can handle kicks off and punts with Bridges topping the depth chart at punter. Downing also is capable of kicking field goals.
“Between those four guys, we’ll get it done or we’re going for two,” quipped Walters.
As always, the Rams play a rugged pre-district schedule against schools from higher classifications.
“All those guys are pretty tough ones for us. Of course, that Week 1 game with St. James is a big one. We’ve had some battles. The kids look forward to that. South Plaquemines, we’ve had some pretty classic games with them as well. In the three years (of the series), it’s the first time we have gone down to South Plaquemines. Bonnabel has a new coach and new system. Plaquemine, with Coach (Paul) Destefano, they are for real. We close out the pre-district with White Castle,” Walters said.
That type of schedule usually doesn’t allow the Rams to sport a perfect – or sometimes even a winning record – but that is not the measuring stick for West St. John.
“Of course, we want to be on the win side of the column but it (the pre-district schedule) is basically to get with teams we know that can play and have played other great teams and are tested. They are going to have more size than us and they are going to have more kids and depth than us. That’s what we want to see; how do we fare out against those type of teams,” Walters said.
West St. John’s district foes include Houma Christian, Covenant Christian, Varnado and St. Martin’s Episcopal.
Regardless of the competition, the Rams continue to have a hunger for a state championship.
“If you can have a slice of chocolate cake and it’s the best chocolate cake, you want more of it. That’s where we are. We are trying to see if we can do it and do it a little better,” Walters said.