Not long after Ascension Catholic clinched its first trip to an LHSAA football championship game in 25 years with a 35-21 victory over St. Mary’s, sophomore running back/linebacker Jai Williams started looking for teammates to celebrate the moment.
Williams, who rushed for a season-high 240 yards and scored three touchdowns in the Division IV select semifinal, found backfield mate and close friend, junior Jamar Barber. They embraced and shared a shoulder bump.
“I hugged almost everybody, but Jamar was the first one,” Williams said. “I remember us saying, ‘We did it. We’re going to the Dome.’ That was a night to remember.”
Williams and Barber would love nothing more than to duplicate such a moment on the artificial turf of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome when sixth-seeded Ascension Catholic (11-2) meets fourth-seeded Lafayette Christian Academy (12-1) at 3:30 p.m. Thursday in the Allstate Sugar Bowl/LHSAA Prep Classic.
“It’s going to be a good feeling,” Barber said of ACHS’ title-game appearance. “It’s definitely going to be a time to remember.”
The journey for Barber and Williams is special because they grew up together as best friends. Their relationship crossed over to football as teammates, first at the youth level with the Bayou Lafourche Raiders.
“I knew he was going to be good from the start,” Barber said of Williams, the son of former ACHS and LSU running back Germaine “Juice” Williams.
Williams returned the compliment, admiring Barber's big-play ability during their youth-league days that spawned dreams of being in the same backfield again once they got older.
That goal turned into reality the past two years. Barber and Williams give Ascension Catholic a formidable running attack — one that’s thrived because of an on-field chemistry fueled by their off-field bond.
“We’re like brothers,” Barber said. “Our parents are close. We used to see each other almost every day when we were young. We’re that close.”
ACHS utilizes both players’ talents simultaneously with Barber and Williams lining up in shotgun formation on either side of quarterback John Mire.
When the ball is handed off, whatever back is not carrying the ball serves as the other's lead blocker. Their contrasting styles — Barber’s more elusive; Williams relies more on power — complementing the other.
The results have been divided almost down the middle: the 5-foot-9, 180-pound Barber has 158 carries for 1,643 yards (10.4 per carry) and 16 TDs; the 5-10, 172-pound Williams with 155 attempts for 1,628 yards (10.5 per carry) and 21 TDs.
“That was not predetermined. That was not our plan. That’s just how it worked out,” ACHS coach Drey Trosclair said. “It doesn’t give us any tendencies. The offensive line’s also played a huge part in that.”
Both players’ impact doesn’t begin and end with offense.
Williams, a linebacker, has a team-high 111 tackles, while Barber, a defensive back, has three interceptions (two returned for TDs). He’s also a threat on special teams with nearly a 30-yard average on kickoff returns and 26 yards on punt returns, including a touchdown.
“It’s good to know I’ve got someone by my side that I’ve come up with,” Barber said. “We help each other out throughout the season and in life as well.”
Said Williams: “We just clicked the first time we met. I’ve got his back, and he’s got mine. He’s my brother on the right side, and I’m his brother on the left side. There’s no jealousy. We want what’s best for each other.”