East St. John’s game at St. James on Friday night will be a battle of Wildcats.
More than that, it will be a battle of similar Wildcats. Both teams possess explosive offenses and shutdown defenses.
St. James (1-0) used an opportunistic offense that took advantage of several West St. John turnovers a week ago to balloon a 7-0 lead late in the second quarter into a 28-0 halftime advantage on the way to a 28-8 victory. The St. James defense allowed only a late touchdown.
East St. John (1-0) scored on almost all of its first-half possessions to build a huge lead in dominating West Jefferson 47-7 last week. Like the St. James defense, East St. John’s unit allowed only one score.
“For us, this is a major step up in class,” St. James coach Robert Valdez said of his second-ranked Class 3A team taking on Class 5A ESJ. “For us, it’s an opportunity to play up and see if everything we have been doing can be successful against someone that is just as fast but with great numbers. I’m excited. I’m of the philosophy that iron sharpens iron. Therefore, this game won’t do anything but make us better.”
“He’s basically like a field general now because he has a couple of years under his belt and he plays with so much poise and control. He understands what it is that they ask him to do,” said Valdez. “He gets it to Calvin Gardner, he throws it to Dontae Fleming and finds the other supporting cast along the way that makes them go.
“The thing he doesn’t get enough credit is that he’s very deceptive. He’s an athlete as well. If you try to pay attention to the other moving pieces and not pay attention to him, he can beat you with his arm and legs.”
The guy East St. John wants beating opponents on the ground is bruising running back Calvin Gardner. The 5-foot-7, 170-pound senior is coming off a West Jefferson game in which he had three rushing touchdowns in the first half.
“He reminds of the game when I was growing up, ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’ video game,” Valdez said. “It just rolls and rolls and topples everything in its way and all that. It’s fun to watch because I like watching running backs. It won’t be fun to watch him on Friday.”
Valdez and his family are familiar with Gardner in another way.
“My wife was in St. John Parish and I think he taught him in kindergarten. He’s grown a lot bigger and stronger since then,” Valdez laughingly said.
If not handing the ball to Gardner, Shelby is either targeting Dontae Fleming or several other members of the ESJ receiving corps.
“Fleming is a special guy,” Valdez said. “I like to have fun and things have to make sense to me in my own crazy mentality. He’s like a satellite. He just catches everything in his radius. You throw it up and he’s going to make plays.”
Among the other top targets are Alonzo Porter, Rydell Jackson and Markel August.
“I wouldn’t call them a supporting cast because all of them individually can beat you and hurt you,” said Valdez.
Valdez described the ESJ offensive line as big and bigger.
“I think Jakobi Anderson could block out the sun,” Valdez said of the 6-foot-5, 330-pound senior.
The offensive line, Valdez said, is versatile.
“They are coming downhill at you. They are asking for a push. They pull those guys from time to time. They are versatile. They just want to get in your way and let the big back have his way. They do such a good job of selling the play-fake to make you come up. You have to be able to read your keys,” the St. James coach said.
East St. John defensive line is formidable as well.
Their defensive front is very athletic. Jackie Marshall, at defensive end, is are really, really athletic guy. Welland Williams is very athletic. Then they have the big boy, Durell Daigre who comes in. He’s a 6-foot-1, 300-pound sophomore. Razay Knight is not very big but he’s athletic,” said Valdez.
Trevion Hampton leads the ESJ linebacker corps.
The East St. John secondary, said Valdez, consists of players who can cover a lot of ground.
“They give you multiple coverages and they are going to bring pressure,” Valdez said. “They will bring five- and six-man pressures a lot. That helps to off-track your blocking scheme.
“Their corners are very aggressive and they can be very aggressive because they are getting a good rush. The safeties are more like downhill guys.”
With similar-type personnel at the skilled positions for both teams, the game likely will be decided in the trenches if St. James is to be the victorious Wildcats on Friday night, according to Valdez.
“For us to be successful we have to be able to generate a push with the offensive line and we have to be able to create penetration and make plays on the defensive line,” the St. James coach said.