Making history feels so good to the Thomas Jefferson Jaguars, they want to keep it going.
Thomas Jefferson, in only its sixth year of existence, is 3-0 this football season, the best start in its brief history. The Jaguars will try to push their record to 4-0 on Friday night against De La Salle (2-1).
“Four-and-0 would be awesome,” coach Kevin Kelly said. “We’d never been 3-0.”
Last season, Jefferson’s first competing for district honors, the Jaguars went 6-5, finishing second in 10-3A before getting clobbered by Notre Dame of Crowley in the first round of the state playoffs.
However, after losing only a handful of seniors, the Jaguars set their sights high this season. The program’s best record was 8-2 in 2012, when it won the Independent League, which consisted of schools not competing in an LHSAA football district.
“I think it’s possible that we can go undefeated, but our main goal is to win the district title,” senior quarterback Tyler Lavergne said. “That would be huge.”
Going undefeated was dashed almost in the season opener against Class 3A Albany, but Lavergne and speedy receivers Marlon Wilkins and Kevin Daniels came up big in a 21-20 win on Sept. 5.
First, Lavergne and Wilkins served notice on the second play from scrimmage, teaming on a 74-yard touchdown pass. Jefferson, however, trailed with 45 seconds left in the game.
Daniels then scored on a 78-yard scoring pass from Lavergne. Receiver Tyler Butler then was inserted as the Wildcat quarterback by Kelly and ran for the two-point conversion and the win.
In the second game, against Class 1A St. Martin’s, Jefferson running back Donte Sincere, a physical 200-pounder, gained 130 yards on 22 carries and scored a touchdown, paving the way for a 24-12 victory at St. Martin’s on Sept. 12.
“St. Martin’s likes to throw the ball, so we wanted to run the ball to keep them off the field, eat up the clock and score some points,” Kelly said. “It worked well.”
Last week, the defense, led by sophomore tackle Standish Dyson and Wilkins, who also starts at free safety, was dominant in a 23-6 triumph against Haynes, like Jefferson, a premier magnet school. Not only did it give the Jaguars a 4-2 record in the Magnet Bowl, it avenged last season’s 19-7 loss to Haynes.
Kelly said his team is winning because it has good balance and is more experienced.
“We are good on defense, we’re good on special teams, and we’re balanced on offense,” he said. “We’ve got an experienced quarterback, and we’ve got an experienced offensive line. We can run the ball and throw the ball.”
Lavergne, whom Kelly said throws deep well and has touch on shorter passes, has completed 35 of 75 passes for 569 yards, four touchdowns and just one interception. Wilkins leads the team with 12 receptions for 254 yards (21.2 per catch) and two touchdowns. Daniels has caught just four passes but for 148 yards — a whopping 37 yards per reception — and one TD.
Lavergne said the line, while not big and bruising, gives him time to pass and has opened holes for Sincere and scatback Antonio Castros.
“We have three seniors on the offensive line, so they know what they’re doing,” Kelly said. “I’d just like them to be a little nastier.”
Stopping De La Salle and running back Cole Lewis will be a nasty proposition. Lewis (5-10, 220) scored two touchdowns in the Cavaliers’ 21-10 win last season at Hoss Memtsas Stadium, Jefferson’s home field. Last week, in De La Salle’s 31-14 victory against Hannan, Lewis had career highs of 215 yards and three touchdowns.
“I’m sure they’re going to run big No. 43 up in there again,” Dyson said. “Our defensive ends will have to squeeze and run down the line to help out the nose guard, and we have to stay low and fight through the double teams.”
Kelly and Dyson said the defense is better than it was last season, and one big reason is the addition of coordinator Wayne Meyers, the former longtime head coach at Higgins.
“He’s got more than 20 years experience,” Kelly said. “We run a basic 3-4 defense, and we adjust from that with different looks. We’re a little more sound.”
Another big welcomed change has been that of the student body, teachers and staff at Jefferson, the players say. Winning has created a buzz, and attendance is increasing at games.
“Now we get the support of everybody, not just in the classroom, but on the football field now that they see we’re winning games,” Wilkins said.
De La Salle is the start of the toughest part of the schedule, however, with Lusher (2-1) next. After a game against Grace King, a struggling program but a 5A school nonetheless, district play begins, with the finale against defending champ Miller-McCoy likely to decide the championship again.
Wilkins said the Jaguars knew that trying to reach their goals will have its challenges, but feels they’re on to something.
“It feels really good, like we’re starting something new,” he said. Hopefully, we’ll keep it going throughout the season or we start a legacy here so the younger players can follow when we leave.”