What is being a defending state football champion really worth? The answer you get may depend on who you ask.
The answer for Parkview Baptist’s Kenny Guillot and White Castle High’s Ferrante Dominique amounts to two words - not much.
“One of the first things I told our kids is we’re not defending anything,” Guillot said. “Last season was great and we won a state title. But that’s over now. This is a new year and a new team.”
Dominique adds, “I’ve never been one to live in the past. Last year was wonderful. It was proof of what hard work and believing in each other can do. It can serve as motivation, but now we’re starting over.”
Starting over also offers a different meaning for the Class 3A Eagles and 1A Bulldogs, who are as different as night and day in many ways.
Parkview, a private school nestled in south Baton Rouge won its first state title in 2001 and then won in 2007 and 2010. The Eagles also were the 3A runner-up in 2009.
Last season was a Cinderella run for White Castle, which claimed its first title in 11-man football. The Iberville Parish public school is part of a rural community. In addition to winning state titles in football and boys basketball in 2010-11, the Bulldogs have also dodged rumors of a possible school closure or a move to become a charter school.
With the season less than two weeks away, Parkview and White Castle are following their blueprints for success.
Some of those renderings are polar opposites. Parkview has as many players listed on one column of its roster - 28 - as White Castle has on its team.
For Guillot, team chemistry and filling roles in a familiar system are crucial.
“There is a still a lot of work to do, but I really like this team,” Guillot said. “I think there’s a good team chemistry, not only with the players, but also with the coaches.
“I’m the head coach, but I’m willing to listen to the ideas the other coaches have. We have several guys who played here and are back coaching with us and I like that.”
For Dominique chemistry is a factor. The Bulldogs have 12 players back from last year’s title team. Getting players in the right places with the mix of veterans and youngsters also takes a mechanical approach.
“We didn’t do a whole lot of seven-on-seven this summer,” Dominique said. “We spent more time in the weight room, trying to get stronger and the kids really bonded together.
“We have seven seniors and four of those guys were all-state players. But more than half our team will be guys who are either freshmen are eighth-graders.
“A lot of guys will obviously have to play both ways. What we need to do now is get guys in the right place and find out where some of these younger guys fit in. It’s a process.”
As the Eagles prepare to host the South Baton Rouge Jamboree on Aug. 26, and White Castle is prepping for the Plaquemine Jamboree on the same date, some similarities are obvious.
Each team returns a top running back. Fullback Brandon Johnson, 6-foot-1, 235 pounds, was the top rusher, finishing with about 1,000 yards in Parkview’s flexbone offense. Title-game MVP Hezekiah Randolph, Hunter Brian and quarterback Brennan Bozeman are other rushing options.
White Castle returns 5-8, 187-pound Tyre Bracken, who ran for 3,107 yards and 39 TDs last season, including a Class 1A title-game record of 235 yards. Isaac O’Bear split time with Ronald Martin, now a defensive back at LSU, last season as a quarterback-receiver.
Dominique has a new wrinkle, too. Expect the Bulldogs to split O’Bear out at wide receiver sometimes, opening the door for Bracken to pass or run from a single-wing formation.
Two running games: Similar, yet different. The same can be said for the offensive and defensive lines.
Parkview returns just one starter on its offensive line, tackle Taylor Krone (6-2, 250). The four first-year starters average 283 pounds. On defense, 3A and All-Metro MVP Tom Bove is one of two returnees.
WCHS is led by Gerad Carlin (6-2, 285), a senior center who anchors both lines. The Bulldogs return four offensive linemen and two defensive linemen.
For the coaches, talk about similarities, strengths and defending state titles is window dressing. They say the real tests will come as the season progresses.
“You never really know how a team will do until you watch them handle themselves and see how they react to adversity,” Guillot said.
“We’ve got some learning and growing to do,” Dominique said. “This year’s a new ballgame.”