BALDWIN - With a casino bordering the campus, it’s perhaps no accident that college coaches are starting to feel lucky when they come to West St. Mary High in search of football talent.
Thanks also to a technology strategy implemented by head coach Ryan Antoine, Bowl Championship Series programs are finding it’s no gamble when it comes to the quality of athletes at a school with 350 students. Although dropping down to Class 2A this season, West St. Mary has three college commitments to schools like Stanford, LSU and SMU. That’s unusual for a school the size of WMHS.
“It’s pretty amazing, since the school is in a one red light town,” said offensive-defensive lineman Jerald Hawkins, who committed to LSU last month.
In addition to Hawkins, running back-defensive back Johntrey Tillman has committed to Stanford, and Daijuan Stewart, who plays many positions, committed to SMU in the spring.
Antoine, in his second season at the school, said the Tigers have some potentially exceptional players, who are possibly overlooked by larger schools because of the school’s somewhat rural location.
“I think with the three who committed this season, it shows we are blessed with enough talent to show everyone we have kids who can play at that level,” said Antoine, a former defensive coordinator at New Iberia’s Westgate High.
The problem was, the message wasn’t reaching everyone, Antoine said.
Antoine took a step to rectify that as he created highlight videos of his players.
Instead of limiting his video submissions to just colleges, he sought a wider audience.
Using internet tools like YouTube and popular recruiting sites, Antoine said he developed more exposure for his players.
“Not everyone or every coaches knows where West St. Mary is, so I used the Internet to get the word out,” Antoine said.
“Of course I also e-mailed highlights to coaches even though (the tapes) weren’t requested. I wanted to put the tapes in their hands easily.”
The school began classes in 1999, is comprised of students from the rural communities of Baldwin, Sorrel, Glencoe, Four Corners and Charenton.
Antoine said Tillman seems a perfect fit for a school like Stanford, which has high academic standards.
“Johntrey is a big academic guy as well as a good kid, who plans to major in mechanical engineering,” Antoine said.
Last season Tillman gained 1,500 yards and scored 19 touchdowns on a 3-7 team.
“Stanford is successful in athletics and academics, and I’m going to school to get a degree. I’ve never been out there (to Stanford), but I know what a degree from that school means,” said Tillman, who said he will play in either the offensive or defensive backfield.
Stewart is attracted to SMU’s run and shoot attack brought in by coach June Jones. Jones used the same offense with the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons and later at Hawaii, before coming to Fort Worth, Texas.
“What (Jones) does with the offense is more suited to my style of play,” said Stewart, who plays wide receiver, defensive back and quarterback. “They plan to use me as a slot receiver. I’ve been up there to watch them practice, and I knew then that’s where I should go.”
Antoine said he sent tapes of Stewart to SMU and that piqued the Mustangs’ interest.
“Daijuan went to a spring camp there and after seeing the tapes, they offered him and he committed,” said Antoine.
Hawkins, 6-foot-6, 290 pounds, said he committed to LSU after attending a July camp.
“After I went to that (camp, LSU) offered me right away. Right now I think LSU would like to see me on the offensive side,” Hawkins said.
Hawkins said Antoine’s efforts are putting West St. Mary and his teammates on a recruiting map that wasn’t there.
“What he did helped tremendously. We’re a small town and know teams are going to know about us,” he said.
A Stanford assistant visited West St. Mary to meet Tillman, while other coaches may no longer need global positioning to locate the campus, Antoine said.
And as Anotine knows, there’s also the lure of a casino as a recreational diversion for a college coach seeking to better the recruiting odds.
“Coaches know they can come by, look at some talent and then go play a hand of poker,” said Antoine.