Making adjustments is part of life, and it will be no different for District 7-3A football teams in 2011.
St. James will make one of the biggest adjustments after 19-year coach Rick Gaille was reassigned during the spring. Gaille, who had a 169-72 record, was replaced by former Jackson State head coach James Bell.
Meanwhile, St. Charles Catholic and Donaldsonville move up from Class 2A, and Port Allen, E.D. White and Brusly roll in from other Class 3A districts.
One thing most of them have in common is winning. Five of the six teams made the playoffs in 2010.
“It’s going to be tough,” Donaldsonville coach Terrence Williams said. “I don’t think any team is going to go undefeated. There are too many good teams.”
Williams’ Tigers should be one of those good teams. Donaldsonville went 9-2 last season and returns 11 starters, including all-district quarterback Devon Breaux and all-district running back Tre Brown.
“That’s our 1-2 punch,” Williams said.
Breaux, a Tulane commitment, is one of a handful of two-way starters. He’ll also play defensive back.
“We have a good senior class, but we know it’s going to be tough (in district), because we don’t have the numbers like St. Charles and E.D. White,” Williams said. “But I can tell you our guys will play until the final whistle.”
St. Charles comes in with one of the district’s strongest résumés. The Comets move up to 3A after advancing to four 2A semifinals in the past six seasons.
Still, veteran coach Frank Monica said 7-3A will be no cakewalk.
“You have perennial powers like St. James and E.D. White,” Monica said. “Donaldsonville has everybody back off a team that was very talented last year. We are very familiar with them. Brusly and Port Allen always have a lot of speed and quickness.”
The Comets may be happy to be moving to 3A after going 24-4 the past two seasons in 2A. All four of those losses came to 2A powers John Curtis and Evangel.
Bolstering St. Charles is the running back tandem of Marcus Hall and LaZedrick Thompson. Hall, an all-stater in 2010 is a shifty runner, while Thompson (6-1, 205) is more of a power threat.
“They complement each other extremely well,” Monica said. “They’re difference-makers.”
Senior quarterback Donnie Savoie also returns for the Comets, one of 15 returning starters.
On defense, all-state defensive end LaJaylin Smith, a five-year starter, leads the way.
St. James will carry on without Gaille, who led the Wildcats to eight state semifinal and three runner-up appearances during his tenure.
Bell, who coached collegiately at both Jackson State and Taylor (Ind.), most recently led Drew Central High School in Monticello, Ark.
Donaldsonville’s Williams said he expects St. James to continue rolling.
“I had the utmost respect for coach Gailey,” Williams said. “He is the godfather of our profession. Still, it’s St. James. They still have kids that can jump, run and play football.”
The Wildcats have 19 starters returning.
“Right now, the challenge is going through the transition,” Bell said. “But transition is what you make it. You do what’s best for the players and everything’s a gradual change.”
Bell isn’t the only new coach in the district as Brusly’s Erik Willis returns to the West Baton Rouge Parish school for a second stint.
Willis replaces Tait Dupont, who went 3-7 in 2010. Dupont will be the defensive coordinator and athletic director.
“It’s a great situation,” said Willis, who coached the Panthers in 2008. “I think the program was on the right path. There’s no real transition.”
Ten of 11 starters return on offense, including dual-threat quarterback Jay Christophe (1,467 total yards, 14 TDs in 2010).
Sherrod Patterson is also back after racking up 600 all-purpose yards last year.
On defense, the Panthers have six returning starters, led by linebacker Branden Alexander (85 total tackles in 2010).
Brusly’s Westside rival, Port Allen, will try to better last season’s 5-5 record. The Pelicans, who have made the playoffs three straight years, will have just one returning starter on offense in running back Ricky Merritt.
“We’ll have to rely on defense and special teams until the offense can find its identity,” coach Guy Blanchard said.
Linebacker Darrian Claibourne returns after racking up more than 90 tackles last season with three interceptions (two returned for touchdowns). Claibourne will double as the starting quarterback.
Defensive back Caleb Johnson (five interceptions) and Lebeaux Cooper (nine pass breakups, 41 tackles) are other defensive standouts.
E.D. White, a 2010 state quarterfinalist, gives the district another perennial winner. The Cardinals from Thibodaux are 51-31 in coach Kyle Lasseigne’s tenure.
But E.D. White must replace its top rusher, passer and receiver. Bruising running back Dylan Ledet (1,644 yards, 23 TDs) signed with Cornell.
“Offensively, our team will have to rely upon a bigger, but relatively inexperienced line with only Jordan Knight returning,” Lasseigne said.
Lasseigne said he likes his team’s front seven on defense. Included in that group is two-time all-district defensive tackle Alex Becnel.