Not far from the banks of the Bayou Teche will be a beacon of light Friday evening in the tiny community of Centerville beaming into the sky like never before.
For the first time Centerville High, located in St. Mary Parish, will conduct a varsity football game when the Bulldogs host Grand Lake at 7 p.m.
“We’re such a small community, things like this will help bring everyone together,” said Colin Daigle, a senior running back-linebacker said. “It’s a huge deal around the community. Everyone’s pumped up.”
“It’s going to be a surreal experience,” said Cole Candella, a senior wide receiver/linebacker. “Everyone’s going to be happy and hyped. It will be great.”
The seeds were sewn three years ago for Centerville, traditionally a Class B school that thrived in baseball and track, with the intent of introducing varsity football in 2015.
In preparation for the moment the school played a junior varsity schedule for the past three years, hiring Anthony Hicks away from Peabody Magnet in Alexandria, to coach the final year in 2014. He guided the Bulldogs to a 4-3-2 record, facing five teams that were either Class 4A or 5A.
The momentum carried into the team’s spring scrimmage, a 40-0 win over East Iberville and into the fall with a 38-0 victory over Delta Charter in a preseason scrimmage.
Centerville hosted its first jamboree Friday with resounding results: an 18-6 win over Sicily Island and 44-0 over New Orleans Homeschool.
“I hope that shows we’re not a below-average team, but we’ve still got a long way to go,” Hicks said. “The excitement’s here. The community’s looking forward to it and have been supportive.”
Hicks, a native of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, previously served as coach at North Central and Peabody before inquiring about the job at Centerville and the possibility of helping build something from scratch.
He said he talked with Central Catholic-Morgan City coach Tommy Minton, a former coach at Patterson, about the area and the potential Centerville had to be successful.
“I like family and when I think about 1A schools, I think about small towns with big-time football and close relationships,” said Hicks, who has one full-time assistant and four nonfaculty coaches. “It was a goal to start a football program, but they were Class B for so long and didn’t have a big enrollment.”
Big roster numbers weren’t a luxury for Hicks at either North Central (17 players) or Peabody (35 players) but that didn’t stop him from leading the Warhorses to a pair of Class 4A state playoff appearances.
Centerville presents a similar limitation with the Bulldogs featuring a roster of 28 players, with only six seniors and 15 underclassmen.
“Our goal was to start something here and build a program,” Candella said. “I used to play pee-wee (football) in Franklin and have watched it and played in the backyard. Now we’re trying to building something here.”
Senior Caleb Leblanc will lead the team’s single-Wing offense with Daigle and senior Tristan Breaux in the backfield. Candella and sophomore Matthew LeBourgeois are receivers and junior Desmond Monette a tight end.
The defense’s five-man front will be anchored by junior nose guard Jason Gutherie with Leblanc, Breaux, Candella and Daigle serving as linebackers and LeBourgeois in the secondary.
Centerville will be at home for its first two games, hosting Grand Lake and North Central, before returning for the start of District 7-1A play against Gueydan.
The Bulldogs also host league games against Central Catholic (Oct. 2), Ascension Episcopal (Oct. 16), Vermilion Catholic (Oct. 30) and Highland Baptist (Nov. 6).
“I’ve told our kids at the end of the day all I’m looking for is for them to compete and give effort,” Hicks said. “You may win or lose, but if you provide effort, then the sky’s the limit.”