Well-rounded De La Salle set to face Lutcher _lowres

Advocate photo by VERONICA DOMINACH -- De La Salle's Myles Ward (13) as teammate BJ Randle blocks Clark's Darnell Lee earlier this season.

Music blared through the speakers at Harrell Park on Wednesday afternoon as the De La Salle football team was busy preparing for the school’s biggest game in recent history.

“Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey.

Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed and Delivered.”

“Forgot About Dre”, the collaboration by Eminem and Dr. Dre.

The music being played was about as well-rounded out as the team listening to it.

And that’s saying a lot considering just how versatile the Cavaliers have been this season.

They’ve dominated, on the ground and through the air on offense.

They’ve stopped everyone on defense.

And they perhaps would dominate on special teams, too, if only someone could ever force them to punt. (They’ve punted just eight times all season.)

The Cavaliers (9-0, 6-0 in 9-3A) get by far their toughest test of the season Friday night against Lutcher (8-1, 6-0).

The game, scheduled for 7 p.m. at Joe Brown Stadium, is a battle of two of the state’s top teams in Class 3A.

De La Salle is ranked No. 2 in the LSWA Class 3A poll and Lutcher is No. 3.

“It’s very big,” junior defensive lineman Danquan Edwards said. “It means everything. We have been focusing all week and keeping distractions out the way.”

Edwards leads a defense that has allowed just 57 total points all season, an area-best average of just 5.8 points per game. They have five shutouts.

The offense has been just as potent, averaging 50.2 points per game. They have eclipsed 60 points twice this season. Sophomore quarterback Julien Gums has thrown for over 1,000 yards and three running backs (Ricco Wheat, Myles Ward and Kendall Collins) have rushed for over 500 yards.

It’s all helped the Cavaliers race out to their best start in school history.

“It’s been the kids maturing and just buying in,” De La Salle coach Ryan Manale said. “We played a lot of freshmen and sophomores last year, and now they are sophomores and juniors. They’ve matured faster than I thought they would.”

Manale started seeing this could be a special group in Week 3, when the team made the long trek to Union Parish and trounced the perennial power 62-13.

“They beat us pretty good in the playoffs a few years ago, so four years later, it was very rewarding,” Manale said.

Manale is in his fourth season in charge of the program.

Music has been a part of De La Salle practices since he took over, giving them a college-like atmosphere.

The players like it.

“Practice is very uptempo,” senior defensive back Semaj Lewis said. “We get hyped every practice, and we play in the games like we practice It’s a great feeling.”

The Cavaliers take on a Lutcher team that moved down from 4A to 3A this season. The only blemish on Lutcher’s record is a 21-20 loss to St. Amant in Week 3. The Bulldogs, led by quarterback Jontre Kirklin (1,471 passing yards, 693 rushing) are averaging 44 points per game. The defense, which has two shutouts, is anchored by lineman Sully Laiche, a two-time all-state selection in 4A and Lutcher’s all-time sacks leader.

“He is as good as any defensive tackle I’ve ever coached against because of his motor,” Manale said. “If he was two inches taller, every SEC school would be after him. It will be the best defense we have faced thus far. We are going to have to play De La Salle football.”

Manale wasn’t even quite sure what De La Salle football was four years ago. He had just accepted a job as offensive coordinator at Mandeville when the job came open at the Uptown school.

“The first thing I said was ‘no’,” he recalled. “A few people told me De La Salle was a hidden gem, and four years later, I can say there aren’t many places better.”

Gums, the team’s sophomore quarterback would agree. He is trying to make good on something in said in a postgame interview after the season-opening win against Lake Area.

“It was the first interview I ever did in my life, and I said we were going to go 10-0 and make it to the playoffs and get to the Dome,” Gums said. “I’m trying my best to make sure we do that.”

The 10-0 part of that prophecy will be determined Friday. The getting to the Dome part will be determined in the next few weeks.

“But this one game isn’t going to make or break our year,” Manale said. “I think it’s going to help us. We can come out of this game with a loss and still become a better football team for the playoffs. But our kids are excited. Our fans are excited. The whole De La Salle community is excited.”

And that includes Edwards, one of the leaders on defense.

“We’ve come a long way and we have grown,” Edwards said. “We’re almost there.”