THIBODAUX – Don Rodrigue gave a succinct description of the recently-concluded Line Camp held annually on the Nicholls campus.
“We don’t care how tall you are. We don’t care how many stars you have, how high you can jump, how much you weigh or that you are D-I prospect. The whole purpose of the camp is to make you a better high school football player. They go back home, get to your team and be a more productive offensive and defensive football player,” said Rodrigue.
Rodrigue, who spent many years as a coach, including long stints at St. James High and Nicholls, is a co-owner of the camp, along with Pete Jenkins. Jenkins has been through the wars in the trenches, both in the NFL and in college. He is particularly known for his stints at LSU.
The campers generally come in two groups – as an individual or as part of a large group. Either way, there is lot to be learned from the camp, which topped 500 participants this year. A significant number of the campers came from River Parish schools.
“They changed up my stance. I had both feet straight up. They changed my back foot and it was a lot easier to get out of it (the stance),” said camp newcomer Daniel Hart, who will be a senior defensive tackle for Destrehan in the fall.
“It was different. It’s a good camp. I would like for everyone to come here,” said Jalen Walker, who will be a senior offensive tackle at West St. John in the fall.
Like Hart, Savion Jones of St. James also learned something significant from the camp.
“I get to learn stuff that we don’t normally do at my school. I try to do every drill to the best of my ability and I hope I can learn some new stuff. I learned that in a lot of drills, if you don’t use your hips, you can’t do anything. Every drill involves your hips and fast hands,” said Jones, who will be a junior defensive lineman for the Wildcats in the fall.
Lutcher sent a total of 20 linemen from both sides of the ball to the camp. That’s not too surprising taking into account Josef Venus, the Bulldogs’ offensive line coach, has worked the camp ever since he arrived at Lutcher in 2016.
“This is a phenomenal opportunity for them to see what it’s like to be on a college campus and going through practices,” said Venus. “You may be learning something you might not have done or you may have done, and you get to build on that. You gain more confidence in what your coach back home is teaching you.
“There are 100 ways to skin a cat. We are just adding more tools to the toolbox. It reaffirms, ‘hey, our coach knows what he’s doing. He really believes in us.’”
Like Venus, many of the Bulldogs players are camp veterans.
“From my first time coming, I think its taught me so much about the game,” said Drake LaFleur, who will be a senior right tackle and Lutcher in the fall and is a three-year veteran of the camp. “Coach Venus working the camp, you are constantly getting knowledge. It teaches you a lot. It’s really helped my game.
“We are very lucky to have a coach like Coach Venus. I don’t think he will be a high school coach long. He’s a very good coach. He’s helped us so much in just the past few years.”
Another camp veteran from Lutcher is Colten Poche, who will be a senior center for the Bulldogs in the fall.
“The first year is more of introducing different techniques,” Poche explained. “After that, it’s building on and just exploring more. It’s a great experience. You come with your teammates and everybody learns together. After the camp, you get a ‘I Survived Camp,’ t-shirt and you feel real proud like you’ve accomplished something.”
Being held on the Nicholls campus, campers get a glance at what college life is like, said DeQuindois Alexander of Lutcher.
“You get a taste of the college life. In football (season), you have two practices a day and it’s more of what you do from home. At home we have two practices in summertime. This camp, you have three every day. You get fed well. It’s a good experience learning new things in college and NFL players,” said Alexander, who will be a senior left tackle for the Bulldogs.
A growing aspect of offseason work in football is 7 on 7 leagues and tournaments. They can help skilled position players on a team bond, but there are no linemen.
The Line Camp proves bonding for the big guys in the trenches, which appeals to someone like LaFleur and his lunch-pail approach to football.
“Linemen is a brotherhood,” said LaFleur. “It’s not 7 on 7. It’s not all the fame. We don’t get the fame. You (the average fan) don’t know the linemen, all the techniques we work. With 7 on 7, it’s glory. This isn’t glory, this is work.”