THIBODAUX – The football gods forced one of the greatest audibles in history on the Nicholls campus over the past few days.
Daily rain, plus lightning strikes, caused coaches, staff and campers at the annual Offensive-Defensive Line Camp to scamper all over the Thibodaux campus.
“Every practice, there was a question mark whether it be rain or no rain or lightning. It came out right. In the long run, the kids got the quality work. We had a mission to make them better technique-wise and that’s what we accomplished,” said Don Rodrigue, the camp director.
Usually, the 400 campers who take part in the event work out in and open grass area at the front of the campus. Lighting on Monday forced the campers into the school’s two gyms. First, the offensive linemen worked in both gyms, while the defensive linemen were in the film room. Later, the roles were reversed.
Except for the one day of lightning, the campers managed to dodge the weather, but daily rains took a toll. On the final day of the camp on Tuesday, to spare the field as much as possible, the offensive players worked on the grass at the front of the school while the defensive players took advantage of the artificial turf of Guidry Stadium.
“It’s in the folder,” Rodrigue said of the camp’s contingency plan. “We just flip a page and we look at the time schedule. It’s a logistical nightmare because of the lightning. Rain doesn’t bother us. Moving 400 kids from dormitories to gyms and there’s lightning, there’s a problem.”
Rain and mud didn’t bother the campers – after all, it was a camp for the guys in the trenches.
The conditions put a smile on the face of St. James coach Robert Valdez, a former offensive lineman at Southern, who has worked as one of the camp coaches for four years.
“This is paradise. I could just stay here for a couple more weeks and just play in the mud,” said Valdez.
Regardless of conditions, the linemen were willing participants, Valdez said.
“The best part about it is the kids don’t complain at all,” said Valdez. “They understand the work has to be done. They understand you are out here to get better. They are out here to improve on something – at least that one thing. That’s the refreshing thing when you see a whole bunch of kids that have a yearning to learn.”
The poor field conditions proved to be just another part of the learning process for the linemen.
“If you are a downhill veer team, you can play in slop and mud. If you are like a spread zone team, you need steps and to get your feet on the ground and the conditions may cause you to have false footing. You have to just work on it. You have to be prepared for that and something like this will really help you,” said Valdez.
In a modern-day ironic twist, many of today’s high school players rarely play on natural grass surfaces. For example, the upcoming season for St. James features only one game on grass at St. Amant, so the work in the mud the past few days may be one of the few times players experience muddy conditions.
“It’s valuable experience,” Valdez said. “They are out here and getting dirty and sloppy. The moms may not be too happy when they get back home with all that dirty, stinky clothes. It’s priceless, valuable experience to be able to still be able to work on elements on grass.”
Among River Parish schools, Riverside Academy and Lutcher brought large contingents of linemen to the camp.
Conner Naquin, who will be a junior offensive lineman in the fall after having played on the defensive side, is a camp newcomer.
“It’s been a great experience. It’s my first year out here. It’s my first year on the o-line and I’m really learning,” Naquin said. “The last two days have really been a big help and, hopefully, it will carry on into the season.
“I definitely have a better stance than I did before. I get my steps down and I feel I have a lot more power.”
Naquin’s Riverside teammate, Wilbert Robertson is a camp veteran.
“This is my third year at the camp but my first year on the offensive line,” Robertson explained. “I was on the defensive line primarily my last two years but since there is a shortage on our team, I have to play o-line.”
While he will be a two-way player in the fall, Robertson concentrated on the offensive side in the camp since he’s had so much experience on the defensive side of the ball.
“It’s been fun. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned how to pass block and run block effective. I’ve learned to use my hips instead of using just my natural upper-body strength,” Robertson said.
For anyone who has been around the camp over the years, it’s obvious Lutcher’s Joshua Taylor is a camp veteran. In describing his experience, he used a familiar phrase concerning a toolbox often spoken by now-retired camp director Kenny Ferro.
“It’s been a good experience, learning different things from different coaches. It adds more tools to my toolbelt I can pull out in a game. You learn how to adapt to situations,” said Taylor.
Taylor also may have been the best at putting the camp conditions in perspective.
“Everything will not go your way, so you have to be comfortable with the uncomfortable.”