In an effort to address his team’s greatest personnel losses from last year’s select Division III state semifinalist team, Episcopal football coach Travis Bourgeois reached a consensus.
Well, sort of.
Bourgeois saw the difficulty in replacing 1,000-yard rusher Clement Mubungirwa and first team Class 2A All-State linebacker Turner Graham.
But Bourgeois said junior T.J. Wisham is going to be a big part of the solution.
“He’s got to be Turner Graham,” Bourgeois said of Wisham. “We lost four senior linebackers, and he’s a guy we’re expecting to be our defensive leader.
“He also needs to be Clement Mubungirwa in what we’re trying to accomplish and we know physically, that’s going to be impossible.”
On a veteran team largely responsible for a District 6-2A championship, undefeated regular season, a trip to the semifinals and an 11-1 record, Wisham provided a huge boost to, both at outside linebacker and in the backfield his first varsity season.
Wisham contributed 79 tackles, including 49 solos, with six tackles for loss, two caused fumbles and a pair of interceptions to earn second team All-District 6-2A honors.
When the more physical Mubungirwa wasn’t pounding on opponents between the tackles for 1,358 yards and 19 touchdowns, the speedy and shifty Wisham rushed for 650 yards and 11 touchdowns as a wingback.
“I have to identify my role, especially on defense,” said Wisham, a 5-foot-11, 205-pounder. “The linebacker corps doesn’t have as much depth as last year, but I take it as a chance to get in shape and make more tackles. Offensively, it’s different with a new offense and being the primary running back.”
There’s less certainty surrounding Wisham’s role in a rebuilt linebacker corps.
Senior Cody Day, a second-team all-district performer at defensive end, shifts to Graham’s vacated position in the heart of the Knights defense with Wisham replacing senior Ty Williams, playing the weak-side spot where he can use his speed to cover slot receivers.
How Wisham’s offensive role will evolve is still uncertain because of Mubungirwa’s pending arbitration hearing with the Louisiana High School Athletic Association.
The LHSAA denied Mubungirwa’s appeal for an added year of eligibility because he turned 19 before its Aug. 1 cutoff date.
The Legislature passed a law that requires the LHSAA to go to arbitration in cases like his, using the American Arbitration Association. The LHSAA is finalizing the contract/procedures with the arbitration group.
The Knights have had to proceed with the thought of not having Mubungirwa, causing Bourgeois to be more strategic in his approach to utilizing Wisham on offense, especially in the sultry months of August and early September.
“We’re going to focus and limit his offensive role into certain down and distance situations and get in him into situations,” Bourgeois said. “Early on with the heat and humidity, we know it’s going to be tough to play the entire time on offense.”
Throughout workouts this month the first-team repetitions at running back have been divided among
Wisham, junior Kydris Washington and senior David Wade — who both also start on defense — giving the Knights a “running back by committee” approach.
“I’m fine with that because I believe whoever’s in at the time is fresh and should be in the game and would have more of an impact,” Wisham said. “I’m definitely going to make sure I’m in tip-top shape so I can get a number of carries and make plays for the team.”
With an increased role and responsibility Wisham plans to draw on his experience with last year’s senior class — a group responsible for 40 wins during their careers — in an effort to help keep Episcopal’s program on the upswing.
“I learned a lot from the seniors, especially guys like Turner with his drive and vision,” Wisham said. “I know now that the season can end at any time, so you have to go 100 percent every play. I want to try and do what I can to be successful.”