Robert Valdez has had a consistent approach over the years when it comes to taking on a team that might be considered a weaker opponent.
“To respect the game of football, you have to go out there and respect every opponent and you have to block and execute. You can’t get caught up looking at their record. They are motivated because they would love to beat a pretty good football team. We have to go in there and respect the game of football and do our jobs offensively, defensively and on special teams,” Valdez said.
Valdez’s St. James squad will be taking on such an opponent when the Wildcats travel to Metairie to take on Haynes Academy at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Joe Yenni Stadium.
A year ago, when St. James hosted the Yellow Jackets, the Wildcats built a 41-0 lead at halftime and cleared the bench early on the way to a 54-0 win.
Haynes goes into Thursday’s District 10-3A encounter 1-5 on the season, including 0-1 in league play. St. James is 4-2 overall and 1-0 in district play.
St. James is coming off a 22-0 win over Donaldsonville in the district opener in which the Wildcats’ defense set the tone early when Kaleb Brown returned an interception 25 yards for a touchdown less than two minutes into the game.
“We definitely are a team that likes to have the early breaks for us to put the pedal to the metal and just run a little bit faster and run a bit more freely. That was awesome and just to be able to contain the athletes that they have,” said Valdez.
While the approach to playing teams like Haynes Academy may be consistent, one thing that will be different for Valdez and the Wildcats is the rare Thursday playing date.
“Everything has to be modified. You have to be one day ahead,” Valdez said. “We will have to get in three solid days on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and get in everything that we need.
“I think we will be ready. By this time of the year you get to the middle of the season and you should have established a routine. It will be interesting to see how we respond.”
The Yellow Jackets of coach Paul Longo Sr. feature a pro-style offense that likes to run the football.
The quarterback is Zach Botts. Runners include fullback Paul Longo Jr., the coach’s son, and tailback Gavin Burns.
“It’s basically a one, two, three punch with the quarterback, fullback and tailback. They really want to play ball-control offense. They are not too big in throwing the football,” said Valdez.
A very limited roster causes Haynes to play a number of players on offense and defense. In an attempt to keep runners fresh, the Yellow Jackets use numerous backs. Along with Burns and Longo, Haynes also uses Ashton Clay, Josiah Pujols and Jacob Meilleur in the backfield.
In the Yellow Jackets’ only win of the season – a 50-0 blowout of Fisher – all five of the aforementioned running backs rushed for at least 70 yards in the game.
The Yellow Jacket defense is led by middle linebacker Noah Dillings.
“He runs all over the place,” Valdez noted.
Haynes has some good size up along the defensive line, anchored by David Beach at 6-foot-4 and 282 pounds.
Because of the Haynes’ style of play on defense, the Wildcats’ game plan could center around the running game and short passing attack.
“They are basically a two-safety high team and try to keep everything in front of them. They play to stop the run and they are very, very good at keeping everything in front of them so that makes it a little difficult to beat them deep and get past them,” Valdez said.