The St. James Wildcats went into their game last week against an undermanned Haynes Academy team just looking to work out some kinks.
“We kind of went in there with the mentality of fine tuning some of the things with needed to work on,” St. James coach Robert Valdez said. “We have young receivers. Everybody knows that. We were aggressively trying to throw the football and trying to spread the ball around to see who could do what.
“They (the Yellow Jackets) were not a big, imposing threat, but you always have to go out there and play the game the right way. You never know what will happen.”
What happened was St. James quarterback Shamar Smith passed for four touchdowns as the Wildcats easily handled Haynes 43-7.
The win improved St. James to 5-2 overall and 2-0 in league play, but now comes the first big test of District 10-3A play when the Wildcats host perennial power De La Salle.
“We have been their first test in district the last couple of years. They have run the table pretty much on everybody,” Valdez said.
Over the past few years, the Cavaliers have used a steamroller on St. James. The Wildcats lost last year’s game 63-7. The previous two years, St. James lost 48-12 and 41-16.
In last year’s loss, the Cavaliers blocked three punts for touchdowns and used a block to set up another score.
“It’s almost like we played that game yesterday. They blocked four punts, three for touchdowns. The year before, they ran it up on us a little bit on us,” Valdez said.
Some good news for St. James is the Wildcats will not have to face Julien Gums. A do-it-all, bruising quarterback a year ago, Gums now is a freshman running back for the Nicholls Colonels.
“They are just doing it by committee now between Kendall Collins and Montrell Johnson at running back,” Valdez pointed out.
Collins is a junior running back.
“He’s a smaller, more compact power-type of back. He’s a patient runner. He hides behind that big offensive line and waits for creases,” said Valdez.
Montrell Johnson is a sophomore.
“Montrell Johnson is a taller kid. He’s more of a home-run threat with top-end speed.” Valdez pointed out.
The quarterback sophomore Fisher Rojas.
“Fisher Rojas does a good job of throwing the ball. He’s not a Julien Gums-type guy. He’s more a game manager than he is anything else,” Valdez said.
“They throw the ball when they want to,” Valdez added. “They want to run the football and then play good defense. That’s worked for them.”
Featuring a young team, Richon Porter and Ivan Paz are underclassmen. Both are junior receivers.
“For them, this is almost kind of a rebuilding year but they have guys that look the part,” said Valdez.
One guy who looks the part – and then some – is 6-foot-4, 340-pound sophomore offensive lineman John Martin.
“They have a complete roster from top to bottom. I don’t see no reason why they shouldn’t be in the Catholic League with all those other Catholic League in New Orleans, but we will play the games and do what we have to do,” Valdez joked.
The Cavaliers play out of a 4-3 and 4-2-5 alignment.
There is experience on the defensive line in 6-foot-1, 248-pound Theodore Tyler, Logan Guerrera and Tristan LeWallen, all seniors.
De La Salle’s youth movement is present on defense as well with Ashton Robinson, a 5-foot-11, 220-pound sophomore linebacker.
“They are stocking up for future runs,” Valdez laughed.
If the future is bright, the present isn’t so back for the Cavaliers. De La Salle’s two losses this season have been 38-20 to St. Augustine and 34-7 to Karr.
Despite losses by big margins in the past to De La Salle, Valdez said he is looking forward to the test the Cavaliers represent.
“I believe in iron sharpens iron. I want to know if these young guys we are counting on – because when you look at our roster, we are similar to them in terms of youth – I want to know if we can come out there and be the aggressor and be able to execute. I think we can,” the St. James coach said.