Country Day’s players buy into first-year coach Joe Chango’s system and are off to 5-0 start _lowres

Advocate staff photo by RUSTY COSTANZA -- Country Day running back Jase Griffin is brought down by a group of Episcopal defenders Friday at Country Day.

Joe Chango knew just two things about Country Day when he heard about the head football job opening in April.

“I knew was they ran the veer, and they played their games at 4 o’clock,” Chango said.

The Country Day players didn’t know a whole lot about Chango either when they first met their new coach with the New Jersey accent.

“We didn’t know what to expect,” said senior safety Charlie Livaudais. “Then spring practice came around, and we fell in love with what he preaches. He motivates us.”

Fast forward six months, and Chango believes in his players and his players believe in him.

The Cajuns have reeled off five lopsided victories — all by at least 33 points — to start the season.

“I don’t know if surprised is the right word,” said Chango, who spent the previous two seasons as offensive coordinator at Jesuit. “But I’m certainly pleased with the start, that’s for sure.”

It would be hard for him not to be.

The Cajuns (5-0), ranked No. 5 in The New Orleans Advocate Small School Super 10 and the first team among teams receiving votes in the LSWA Class 2A top 10 poll, have scored more points and allowed fewer points than any team in the Greater New Orleans area.

They are averaging a whopping 56 points per game while giving up just 5.6 points per game. They’ve outscored their last two opponents 132-0.

“The intensity he brings is just much different,” said Livaudais, who also handles kicking duties. “And that practice intensity translates to the games.”

The road will only get tougher for the Cajuns, who host West St. John at 4 p.m. Friday.

Country Day’s first five opponents have a combined record of 9-16. The only one of those teams with a winning record was Episcopal, which had been a thorn in Country Day’s side for years.

“That was the first game we realized that we could be something special this year,” senior running back Jase Griffin said.

The next five opponents are a combined 14-8, including a brutal season-ending stretch against Newman, Riverside and St. Charles, the top three ranked teams in this week’s small school Super 10.

Chango said he what he was getting into as he was brought in to help Country Day in its transition from Class 1A to 2A. He replaced Richard Wood, who stepped down to concentrate on coaching track.

“Our district is like the SEC (Southeastern Conference) of high school football,” Chango said. “We are looking forward to getting on the field with them to see where we are.”

Going back to last season, when he helped Jesuit when the Division I state championship, Chango has won 11 consecutive games on the sideline.

His formula?

“I don’t know the exact answer,” Chango said. “It’s just working every day and holding them accountable. Everyone tells us we can’t compete in 2A. But I say ‘why can’t it be us?’ If we don’t think like that, we’ve already lost. If we are going to line up, we may as well line up and at least try.”

Seniors like Griffin, who scored six touchdowns last week (three rushing, two receiving and one interception) have bought in.

“He has just brought a whole new level of intensity,” Griffin said. “The team chemistry is a lot stronger this year. We’re working hard and believing that we can compete in this district.”

Griffin ranks fourth in rushing yards (750) and second in touchdowns (12) in the New Orleans area. Quarterback Christian Kerut is fifth in passing yards (966) and receiver Trey Harrel is fifth in receiving (377).

Chango, a Tulane alum, played at a small high school in New Jersey, so making the adjustment from Jesuit to Country Day came easy for him.

“I was able to see how a small school could be successful,” Chango said. “It doesn’t matter about the size The key is getting the whole roster to contribute to do what they can do.”

So far, so good.

Now comes the tough stretch that his players say they are ready for.

“We feel like we can compete for the title,” Livaudais said. “That’s the difference from the beginning of the season to now. We aren’t going to be afraid of anyone.”