St. Augustine Athletic Director Marcus DeLarge and everyone else affiliated with the school for that matter, can stick their chests out a little bit further Sunday as they watch the NFL playoffs.
“The Purple Knights really can’t lose today,” DeLarge said.
Nope, they can’t.
However Sunday’s two games turn out (New England vs. Denver in the AFC title game and Carolina vs. Arizona in the NFC), at least two St. Augustine alums will be making their way to Super Bowl 50.
All four teams are represented in Sunday’s conference championships.
LSU’s Trai Turner, Class of 2011, is an offensive lineman for the Panthers.
Tulane’s Lorenzo Doss, Class of 2010, plays cornerback for the Broncos.
LSU’s Tyrann Mathieu, also a Class of 2010 grad, is a defensive back for the Cardinals who is sidelined with a torn ACL suffered during the season.
And Harold Nash, the elder statesmen of the quartet as a 1988 St. Aug grad, is head strength and conditioning coach for the Patriots.
Nobody knows the foursome quite like David Johnson, the former St. Aug head coach who went on to become an assistant at Tulane and who’s now an assistant at Memphis.
Johnson was the Purple Knights’ head coach when Mathieu, Turner and Doss starred for the St. Aug purple and gold.
And he’s known Nash since the two of them were 6 years old. Their mothers went to nursing school together and he and Nash attended middle school together at Francis W. Gregory.
“Harold’s been like a mentor to me, an inspirational person in my life,” Johnson said.
Johnson graduated from John F. Kennedy High School, but has a special place in his heart for St. Aug after spending three seasons as head coach there.
He’ll be beaming with just as much pride Sunday with three of his former players and a childhood friend all trying to get a step closer to a Super Bowl ring.
“The entire Purple Knight family worked to help these kids get to this point,” Johnson said. “It wasn’t just the school, but the St. Aug community. Everybody was willing to invest in these kids to get the best out of them. Everybody can sit back and feel like they are a part of it. I’m just a very small part of that success.”
He remembers each player’s journeys to the NFL.
Turner was a 6-foot-5, 350 pound junior when Johnson asked him about his recruiting offers.
“He had no idea what I was talking about,” Johnson recalled. “I figured he must have grade issues or attitude issues. I went and checked and his grades were great and he came from a great family. I told him we were going to get him in shape, (and said) ‘you’re going to go to college and go to the NFL.’ He said ‘yeah coach, whatever.’ ”
Turner went on to play at LSU and was drafted in the third round of the 2014 draft by the Panthers.
Doss played at Tulane and was a fifth-round draft pick in 2015.
Mathieu, the most notable of the three, starred at LSU and was a Heisman Trophy finalist before being dismissed from the team for disciplinary reasons. He was a third-round draft pick by the Cardinals in 2013.
DeLarge knew Mathieu and Doss since they were young. Both played youth baseball for his father.
“You could tell they were going to be special, even when they were young,” DeLarge said. “As they matriculated, they got bigger and stronger and faster, and it all manifested.
“We couldn’t be prouder.”
He still remembers the St. Aug players singing the school alma mater as they walked to and from practice each day.
“It gave you chills,” Johnson said.
“Rise sons of the Purple and gold,
Let our swelling chorus sound
For the glory of St. Augustine,
And the honor of our Alma Mater’s Name
Alma Mater, St, Augustine
Alma Mater, Josephite High,
We will serve you with true devotion
And be loyal sons of yours forever more.”
Two sons of the purple and gold will punch their tickets to the Super Bowl on Sunday. Johnson doesn’t care which two it is.
He’s just proud to know that at least one player who once walked the halls at 2600 A P Tureaud Ave. will be winning a Super Bowl ring in two weeks.
“We’re definitely going to have a Purple Knight in the Super Bowl,” Johnson said.
“You can’t beat that.”