LAFAYETTE — St. Thomas More coach Jim Hightower feigned ignorance when asked for details about the historical success of his team, which he’s led for nearly three decades.

His Cougars, like clockwork, are back in the running for a state championship after wrapping up a 9-1 regular season. That shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.

“We’ve gone to the playoffs for 27 straight years,” High-tower said, before adding, “or something like that.”

The throw-away line at the end of that sentence — or something like that — implied that the coach is not too certain how many consecutive years his team has made the playoffs. Talk to anybody who has seen his mind operate though, and that statistic can just about be accepted as fact.

“He’s a walking calculator,” offered STM Athletic Director Kim Broussard. “He retains everything. He’s able to tell you a score; he’s able to tell you statistics. You give him a calculation that you need off the top of your head, and he can just spurt it out to you.”

“He’s a genius,” added senior defensive back Hunter Langlinais, who Hightower also taught in the classroom.

“He used to work for NASA,” said senior defensive end Conner Munchrath, another of Hightower’s pupils.

Wait a second, NASA? This has to be part of the myth of Jim Hightower, whose 376 wins make him one of the winningest coaches in Louisiana history.

Actually, it’s true. Remember the space race?

“I was an engineering aide,” Hightower said about his experience with NASA in 1969. “I actually worked with the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston, Texas. I worked for Brown and Root/Northrup, and they were testing the manned spacecraft capsule that landed on the moon.”

It’s not a big deal, Hightower said about his contribution to world history. He just operated some charts.

There’s not much need for embellishment with Hightower. The no-nonsense Cougars coach comes as advertised.

Hightower isn’t just the leader of one of the most successful football programs in the state. When he’s not spending time dissecting opponents’ game film, he’s a full-time math teacher at STM who possesses a Rain Man-like gift to understand numbers and equations.

But Hightower’s true talent lies in his ability to impart his genius onto the next generation. Whether he’s teaching how to attack a complicated equation or a two-deep zone, Hightower has found a way for his students to be successful problem solvers.

“He’s a teacher,” Broussard said. “He teaches subject matter in the classroom, but he’s also a teacher on the football field. He’s a teacher of life lessons. I think that’s one of Jim’s great successes.

“He’s a great teacher and translates that in both the classroom and the football field.”

There’s something about Friday nights that invigorate the gray-haired Hightower, though. He’s been at this coaching gig for 41 years now, and it has never grown stale.

“I enjoy working with the young men and seeing them develop, seeing the effort they put in,” Hightower said. “I get a thrill out of being on the sideline on Friday nights. That competition has never gotten old for me.”

Friday night against Jesuit, he will lead his students into the playoffs yet again. He appreciates the opportunity for his kids to test themselves against the best, but that’s never been what drives him.

Whether it’s football or math, Hightower enjoys watching the entire process unfold.

“Seeing them start out as scrawny freshmen and seeing them work for three or four years, seeing that development and maturity,” Hightower said. “All of that, to me, is what keeps me going. Keeps me feeling excited about what I’m doing.

“I like teaching my students the same way. Being around all those young people, they keep you young and they keep you on your toes.”