Zachary High baseball coach Jesse Cassard and the team’s captain, senior Gabe Hannum, were guests at the Zachary Rotary Club’s Feb. 19 meeting. Cassard, also the school’s athletic director, visited the Rotarians to talk about the 2015 Bronco baseball team, which he calls a “very special group.”

“I’ve been working with Gabe since he was 10 or 11 and for him to be captain of this good, talented group of young men is an honor,” Cassard said.

A graduate of McNeese’s baseball program, Cassard took his first job at Barbe High School in Lake Charles as an assistant baseball coach in 2006. “The older I get, the more I appreciate the people who helped me get to where I am today,” said Cassard, acknowledging Glenn Cecchini, Barbe’s coach, who has earned six 5A state championships.

Cassard’s first year at Barbe also was a state championship year for the team. As it happened, the next year was a state championship year for Cassard, but not at Barbe.

“When I first visited Zachary, I knew I wanted to move my family and raise my kids here,” said Cassard, who led the then-Class 4A Broncos to a “three-peat” of state champ titles in 2007, 2008 and 2009.

“I’ve never worked anywhere where excellence wasn’t expected, and I’m not bragging; it’s just that between Barbe and Zachary, excellence was the norm,” Cassard said. “Nine kids signed Division I scholarships and the Barbe team in ’06 won the state title. That team reminds me a lot of Gabe’s team this year.”

Cassard said that when it comes to the best of Louisiana high school baseball, Barbe and Jesuit are always mentioned in the same sentence.

“They’re two perennial championship teams, and I wanted to build the Zachary program so that we’re mentioned right along with those two powerhouse teams,” Cassard said.

After winning three consecutive state titles, the Broncos made it to the semifinals in 2011 and were the No. 1 seed throughout 2012, but the players got into a huge brawl and lost in the second round. In 2013, ZHS lost to Catholic High by one run.

“Last year was our worst year,” Cassard said. “And now we’re in 2015, and they say ‘This is supposed to be our year,’ but I tell my guys it’s not always great to be the ‘supposed to be’ team.”

Cassard referenced LSU’s recent 6-3 loss to Nicholls State as an example.

“LSU was supposed to beat Nicholls. Sometimes the hardest team to play is a state school because those players are going to be playing their toughest, best ball against you to beat you and beat you bad,” Cassard said.

Cassard said his 2015 Bronco squad has three program absolutes: toughness, having a “team first” attitude and maintaining a superior work ethic.

“We may not be the most talented team on the field but we’ll be the strongest, toughest and most energetic. In the age of self-centeredness, selfies and social media, this group puts their teammates ahead of themselves,” Cassard said. “We might not have the most talent or other teams may beat us or coaches may call plays better, but you’re not going to outwork me or these guys.”

Cassard said that when a player has put in the work, it’s inevitable that he stands a little taller, walks a little prouder and swings the bat just a little stronger because he knows he’s worked harder than his opponent.

Cassard said the closeness of this year’s team is due to the fact that many of the players have been playing ball together since they were young boys.

The 2015 squad has nine seniors on the roster: Gabe Hannum and Bo Myers, both LSU-Eunice signees; Micah McHugh, who has signed with Ole Miss; Cory Musselman, a Northwestern State University signee; Evan Pace, who inked a deal with Southeastern Louisiana University; and Brennan Booth, Brandon Dufour, Zachary Moore and Mikey Rider.

A new tradition has started with the team’s captain, Hannum, who also was voted by his classmates as Mr. ZHS.

Cassard said Hannum’s jersey number, seven, has been monogrammed with a C for captain.

“Every team captain after Gabe will wear jersey number seven and have that C for captain’s distinction,” Cassard said. “Gabe is something special. He cares about his teammates more than himself and that’s how this entire squad is … team before self.”

As Zachary’s athletic director, Cassard updated Rotarians on all the ZHS athletic teams and the fact that they’ve all made it to the state playoffs or won championships so far in the 2014-15 season.

“Of course, our goal at ZHS is to win championships. We’re the only high school in this community so our teams represent Zachary and all of Zachary High School. I’m proud of what we’ve done so far, but we can’t do any of it without the help and support of the parents, donors, sponsors and the business community,” Cassard said.

Everything the athletes use, from cleats to gloves and pompoms to uniforms, must be purchased via fundraising, donations to the Zachary Athletic Foundation or sponsorships.

“We cannot survive without you — our supporters, donors and sponsors. Winning championships just won’t happen without your help,” Cassard said.