Earlier this summer, first-year St. Martinville football coach Vincent Derouen made a stop at a local convenience store for a drink and snack and was met with a flurry of inquiries about the upcoming season.
In this football-crazed community of more than 6,000, the hometown Tigers are the only game in town, and locals are starved for a winner with state playoff possibilities after last year’s 1-9 record.
Derouen represents the sixth coach hired since the school’s iconic coach — Carroll Delahoussaye — retired after leading the Tigers to 246 victories and Class 3A state championships in 1981 and 1984.
St. Martinville had all the ingredients — a once-proud tradition, a rich history of producing top-flight athletes and a pending facility upgrade — Derouen was looking for to end his three-year coaching hiatus after a successful run at Northside High.
“It was almost a no-brainer,” Derouen said. “I was itching to get back into it again.”
Derouen’s been on the job nearly seven months and has tripled his roster numbers. He’s pushed his new team through a rigorous offseason of weightlifting, conditioning and 7-on-7 competition in preparation for the start of practice Aug. 10.
“We’re far beyond where we were in the spring,” Derouen said. “We’ve gotten better in the summer. We added some kids who came out we think can help us. But it’s still yet to be seen. We haven’t played anybody yet.”
Derouen hasn’t coached a game since the end of the 2011 season when, as part of a reorganizing effort by the school’s new principal, he was let go at his alma mater, Northside, after 18 years overall, 10 as head coach.
He was the school’s most successful coach, leading the Vikings to an 83-47 record and the program’s lone trip to the Superdome in 2004 against John Curtis.
“It was frustrating because we thought we did everything in our power to help the kids in the community,” Derouen said. “We were working at the beginning of the (2012) summer, and I got a message on my answering machine I was no longer working at Northside.”
Offers to coach followed, but Derouen acknowledged the hurt over his departure cut deep. He sought refuge ,and teaching elementary students, away from the glare of the Friday night lights, was the perfect solution.
Derouen said he wasn’t far removed from the game, though, attending local practices and games to fill the void that consumed his life for more than two decades as a player and coach.
Derouen said he received approximately four head coaching offers with the timing of the St. Martinville job being optimal.
“I really didn’t want to coach until the right chance came up,” Derouen said. “When St. Martinville called, I spoke with my family, and we jumped on it.”
Not only was St. Martinville trying to rebound from a difficult season but aside from a glorious past that featured such great players as Garland Jean-Batiste, Clifford Champ and Early Doucet, a bond issue was passed with $2.9 million earmarked for athletic facility enhancements.
St. Martinville now features an all-weather track, turf field, new weight room and coaches offices.
Derouen has done some building of his own, increasing the size of his roster from 24 upon his arrival to just over 70 with the possibility of more additions. He finalized his staff with four new hires, installed his Pro-I running attack and 4-2-5 defense — staples of his previous success.
“The interest is back up, and the kids are working hard,” Derouen said. “You can tell the feel in the community. They want us to be successful.”