The approach of Kaplan’s Wing-T offense closely mirrors that of the Vermilion Parish community of more than 5,000 residents.
Hard-working and blue-collar are just part of the fabric that intertwines the two with the Pirates’ offensive line serving at the heart of the team’s methodical approach.
“Kaplan has never really had size on other teams,” Kaplan junior offensive guard Jarrick Romero said. “Every team we play is basically bigger than us. The offense is not about size, it’s about speed and being physical. That shows why we’re in the third round of the playoffs.”
Said fellow Kaplan guard Gage Morvant: “We’re small but we have big hearts. We work hard every day at practice.”
With No. 1 Lutcher (11-1) bringing its high-flying, up-tempo offense into town for Friday’s Class 3A nonselect quarterfinal No. 9 Kaplan (9-3) realizes the task at hand in trying to slow down the Bulldogs.
That begins with the Pirates’ offense and their veteran offensive line’s ability to sustain drives and control the clock in order to keep the Bulldogs’ offense on the sideline at Ed Douglass Memorial Stadium.
“We always preach that our best defense is our offense and leaving another team’s offense on the sideline,” Kaplan coach Stephen “Tank” Lotief said. “We try to stay on the field and take a lot of snaps and they’re getting it done. We’ve got a big test this week.”
Kaplan returned the nucleus of its offensive line from a year ago with Romero, Morvant and senior tackle Gabe Briolo all starting in 2014.
The Pirates added senior center C.J. Crochet and junior tackle Hunter Vincent to that starting group, along with a rotating trio of tight ends that include seniors John Broussard, Jaise Meche and D’Angelo Martin.
“Coach has taught us that everything starts at the line,” Morvant said. “If you don’t have a line, then you don’t have anything. We take that to heart.”
There’s nothing prototypical about this year’s offensive line other than its ability to play as a cohesive unit and pave the way for fullback Julius Johnson, who leads the team with 2,006 yards and 22 touchdowns.
Kaplan’s produces 330 rushing yards per game behind a line that averages 220 pounds across the front with the 303-pound Vincent the only player over 240 pounds.
“We stay low and hit people from all angles,” said Romero, an All-District 6-3A selection last season. “We drive them. We have the heart of 270-pound players. We like to be physical.”
Lotief likens the plays of his offensive line to a well-choreographed series of steps and movements by a unit working in unison, often getting help from the running backs.
“It’s kind of a like dance,” he said, also crediting offensive line coach Jared Duhon and tight ends coach Craig Blanchard. “Everybody’s got to be working together.”
Romero credited the unit’s on-field precision to the chemistry they’ve built off the field, which started well before they reached high school.
The long-lasting friendships they’ve established have carried over to Kaplan High where it’s common on weekends to find all of them playing video games at Romero’s home or out hunting.
“We’re always doing things together, always staying close,” Romero said. “I think it makes us play as one and not just rely on one person. We have confidence in the guy next to us.”
Added Morvant: “We’ve played football since we were little. It’s like a big family.”