The sights and sounds of sheer ecstasy originating from the Gueydan locker room five weeks ago were something senior tight end/defensive end Anthony Levy almost forgot existed.
That’s the effect more than two seasons of losing football games — 23 to be exact — can have on a player, a school and a small rural Vermilion Parish community.
“It was a feeling like no other,” Levy said of Gueydan’s season-opening 32-20 home victory over Ascension Christian. “The stands were in an uproar. It kind of felt like a college football game. Guys in the locker room were hollering, talking and walking around. Usually it’s not like that.”
The gloom and despair associated with persistent losing have been replaced by an optimism that hasn’t existed in the program since Gueydan went 10-2 and reached the Class 1A state regionals in 2009.
Gueydan (2-2, 1-0) enjoyed the winning feeling so much it snapped an equally lengthy District 7-1A losing streak last week, holding on for a 21-14 victory over Centerville, creating momentum and confidence heading into Friday’s 7-1A home game against No. 5 Ascension Episcopal (4-0, 1-0).
“The kids know who we’re playing,” Gueydan first-year coach Robert Helo said. “I want to compete and stay in the game. We want to make them work for what they get.”
Helo took a similar approach to his first head coaching job. He was an assistant at Gueydan for eight years under Jay Landry, who left after coaching the Bears for 15 seasons.
Helo was handed the reigns to the program which had lost its last four games of the 2012 season, was 0-10 in ’13 and 0-9 last season.
“I knew what I was getting into,” Helo said. “I also coached at the junior high, so I saw the future of the program going up.”
Gueydan made the playoffs in each of the first three years Helo joined Landry’s staff, topped by its regional run and double-digit win total six years ago.
Since then Gueydan, a community of less than 1,500 known more for its duck hunting and rice farming, struggled to remain competitive with roster numbers dipping below 20 players.
Levy represented one of six returning seniors, most of whom played as eighth-graders, while the team’s five-member junior class had never experienced a victory.
“I guess we stayed because of the love for the game,” Levy said of the senior class. “We could see the people in the community that supported us.”
Helo asked his seniors to establish the program’s foundation, which began with larger- than-usual turnouts for summer workouts that averaged between 22-25 players each day.
The Bears have routinely dressed 30 players this season, a number that includes a talented 11-member freshman class which has produced four-to-five starters and as many as six-to-seven in playing roles.
“The work ethic in the summer helped turn the tide for us,” Helo said. “I’m trying to be more disciplined and preparing them. My goal is to get more pride back in Gueydan football.”
Freshman Mark Clark is Gueydan’s leading rusher with 32 carries for 273 yards and two TDs with senior Trevor Ladelle adding 218 yards and two TDs on 29 attempts.
Senior quarterback Randy Lepretre has completed 12 of 26 passes for 152 yards, and his 54-yard pass to Holden Guidry provided Gueydan with the go-ahead TD with 1:58 to play against Centerville.
Senior linebackers Trenton Latiolais (43 tackles, two fumble recoveries) and Dakota Luquette (39 tackles, two fumble recoveries) are the team’s top defensive players.
“Our class has talked about wanting to change the morale,” said Levy, who has 24 tackles and eight catches for 78 yards. “So far, we’re doing a pretty good job of that.”