When Ryan Manale took over a 5-5 De La Salle in 2012, he called it a hidden gem.
Naturally, there were those who rolled their eyes. Fast-forward to today and Manale is proving his doubters wrong.
De La Salle boasts a 7-0 record, the Uptown school’s best start since 1969. The Cavaliers rank second in Class 3A by the LSWA and third among small schools in The New Orleans Advocate Super 10.
The resurgence wasn’t 46 years in the making, merely four, and De La Salle’s historical season is generating buzz within the community.
“There’s not a place right now where I don’t run into someone who’s a graduate of this year or that year,” Manale said. “People in the community are proud of De La Salle. Alum are coming to game. The crowds are getting bigger and bigger, and I’m excited as I can be for our kids.”
Senior wide receiver Christian Booker, a Nicholls State commitment, has seen a noticeable difference in the crowds and in the hallways than he did as a freshman.
De La Salle went 6-4 in 2012, Booker’s freshman year. In 2013, the team went 5-5 with the same postseason outcome. Then last year, the Cavs finished 8-4 and earned its first playoff win since — yes, that same 1969 season.
“It feels very special to be a part of this team,” Booker said. “Everyone sees you’re doing big things and they want to join. When I was a freshman, people didn’t believe in the football team. Now everyone believes in us and the student section is getting bigger and the school is starting to revolve around the team.”
The Cavaliers team is averaging just a shade less than 50 points while holding opposing offenses to fewer than 12 points per game. Four times, they’ve posted shutouts, including their last three District 9-3A tilts against McMain, KIPP and Clark.
It’s a product of a taxing offseason in which De La Salle has focused on football intelligence as much as play on the field.
“Our football IQ and understanding of the game is much better,” Manale bragged. “We have great team chemistry and the kids buy into good coaching … I don’t see a weakness. They’re character kids, both our players and the kids at De La Salle as a whole.”
De La Salle’s 7-0 start has not come without adversity, though.
Manale admitted some of the teams the Cavs faced early have not panned out. De La Salle defeated Union Parish on the road. The Farmers were a Class 3A quarterfinal last season, but are 3-4 this season. Similarly, De La Salle beat Hancock (Mississippi), a 6A program that’s 3-6.
While there may be doubters, the Cavaliers seem resolute on continuing their historical march.
“A lot of people say we haven’t won a big game yet,” senior defensive back DaVante LeBranch said. “No matter what we have doubters. The whole team wants to get better and prove more people wrong.”