Construction workers were busy in the Ninth Ward on Tuesday afternoon, getting the new school building ready for next year.
Once complete, members of the Carver Rams’ football team will walk the halls together.
But for now, they don’t, which means defensive teammates like Lionel Williams and Antonio Hughes never see each other during school hours.
Williams, a linebacker, attends Carver Collegiate Academy, which consists of eight trailers off Read Boulevard in New Orleans East.
Hughes, a defensive lineman, goes to Carver Prep Academy, housed about five minutes away in the Livingston Building.
But after school and on Friday nights, Williams, Hughes and all their other teammates scattered across two campuses all come together.
Four games into the 2015 season, they’ve come together quite well.
The Rams are 4-0 this season, making the words on the back of a Carver T-shirt of a student walking through the halls Tuesday seem almost prophetic.
“Exceed the Expectations,” it read.
Four games in, they have. It’s Carver’s best start since 2002.
“It’s huge,” said Carver Collegiate principal Jerel Bryant about the 4-0 start. “Not just for the boys who play on the team, but for the school and the community. We are on separate campuses, but this is something that all of our kids experience together.”
Bryant and Ben Davis, principal at Carver Prep, both watched Tuesday’s practice as the Rams prepared for their biggest game of the young season. Carver plays McDonogh 35 at 7 p.m. Friday at Pan American Stadium in a key District 9-4A showdown.
McDonogh 35 (4-0) is ranked No. 2 in Class 4A by the LSWA and No. 5 in The New Orleans Advocate Large School Super 10.
Carver, which has been one of the season’s biggest surprises, is unranked. They are one of eight undefeated teams in the New Orleans area, but are the only one of those eight that is unranked.
They have a chance to change that Friday night, and the players seem to know it.
“This is a statement game,” Williams said. “We feel like a lot of teams that still don’t respect us, so this game can show where we are.”
And where they are exactly can probably be confusing at times for the students who have zig-zagged back and forth over the last four years as the Recovery School District phased out the old G.W. Carver High School, established in the late 1950s, into the Collegiate Academies.
Carver Prep and Carver Collegiate, two of the three schools part of the Collegiate Academies umbrella, opened in 2012.
Both have about 450 students.
Over the past four years, Carver Prep students have attended classes at trailers on the old Carver campus, trailers on the Carver Collegiate campus, back to the old campus and now the Livingston Building.
They shared a campus with their fellow classmates two years ago.
“It has its challenges,” Carver coach Byron Addison said. “I have to go back and forth between the schools, making sure the kids are doing what they are supposed to do in the classroom. Lucky for me, my kids are mature, so I don’t have a lot of discipline problems. But it would still be better if I was right there with all of them all throughout the day.”
Hughes, a key part of a defense that is allowing just 9.5 points per game, admits it’s different not being with your teammates at school.
“We don’t get to talk to some of our teammates until practice time, but we bond with them outside of football,” he said. “I feel like we’ve always been tight, but we were younger, so it didn’t show up on the field. We are more dedicated now. We are working hard.”
The team has movie nights on Thursdays to help bond. Or players will go out to eat at night.
“I think the main thing is we grew up and had seniors took the leadership roles,” running back Rodney Major said. “We don’t fuss any more if someone makes a mistake.
“Now, we just move on to the next play. We are now more of a football team, and we come to play.”
It helps that the Rams now have a senior class, something they haven’t had since Carver Collegiate and Carver Prep formed four seasons ago.
“There’s no substitute for experience,” Addison said. “These guys understand that their time is now.”
Addison, whose team went from 2A to 4A this season, knows it won’t be easy, especially against a McDonogh 35 team filled with Division I prospects.
“We know we have a big challenge ahead,” Addison said. “We have to do the things that got us here and play Carver football and minimize mistakes. It can definitely be an eye-opener. McDonogh 35 is an established program, so any time you can be successful against a team like that, it says a lot.”
Principal Bryant watched the team practice on what was essentially just an open field and beamed with pride at where the school has already come.
“They do what they can with fewer resources than other 4A programs,” Bryant said. “I think we are getting better at meeting their needs, but this is a very resourceful coaching staff and group of kids. This is where they practice. For the first three years, they didn’t even have this.”
There is expected to be a noticeable facility upgrade this time next year.
Carver Collegiate and Carver Prep will be housed in the same building next year, in the location where the old school ruined by Katrina was.
Also, the Marshall Faulk Field of Dreams Stadium, named after the school’s most noteable alum, is scheduled to be ready for the 20016 year.
But for the current Carver Rams, especially the seniors who won’t be around for that new stadium, their field of dreams is Friday night at Pan-Am Stadium against McDonogh 35. Jack Phillips, who coached Carver to its last 4-0 start 13 seasons ago, is expected to be in attendance as well. The Rams are hoping to make a good impression, not just for him, but for the city.
“If we win this one, it can change a lot of people’s minds about us,” Hughes said.