It was the first day of spring practice for Livonia High School’s football team when newly named football coach Guy Mistretta noticed the arrival of a Pointe Coupee Parish school bus on campus.
Twenty hopefuls from neighboring Pointe Coupee Central High School stepped off somewhat uneasy and uncertain over their futures because of the impending closure of their school.
“I had to talk to my family into letting me come to participate,” senior linebacker Gary Bowser said. “I wanted to give it a try.”
The trial run of sorts matched players from Pointe Coupee Central, which eventually shut its doors, with a Livonia team returning with heightened expectations after reaching the Class 3A state championship game for the first time.
Nearly seven months later, when top-seeded Livonia (13-0) returns to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome to face No. 4 Amite (12-2) for the Class 3A state title at noon Saturday, they will do with a unified front. That includes eight former PCC players that have played significant roles in helping the Wildcats back to the brink of an historic first state crown.
“I can’t imagine it being better than this,” Bowser said. “It’s a blessing for your team to go all the way to the Dome.”
On the surface it had the potential for a combustible mix with two rival schools that played each other annually trying to coexist. They had their youth days in the area’s recreational league to fall back upon to initially break the ice and begin the process of being a team.
“It was kind of rough at first,” senior wide receiver Stephen Guidry said. “When we found out (about PCC’s school closure) everyone was mad and then we went through spring and started practicing together and playing with more intensity.”
Livonia’s first spring practice also represented the first time Mistretta, who was hired in mid-March, to get a look at his potential new players. He handed out equipment, learned their names and held a brief meeting before they joined their practice.
Five minutes later, near the end of a drill with the linebackers, Mistretta looked up to see senior Bryce Jones leading the group in a breakdown chant.
“I was amazed,” Mistretta said. “He hadn’t been on campus very long or introduced himself to the coaches at that point and he was leading them in a break.”
Jones, whose stepfather Cleo Johnigan led PCC’s program to a pair of Class 1A playoff appearances, said it was important for players like himself and Guidry to assert their leadership skills.
“It was a lot different coming here,” he said. “I accepted a leadership role, and that made me work harder and get to know these guys through the summer workouts.
“It was an important summer to get know what type of players I was surrounded by on defense.”
PCC’s initial number of 20 players was reduced to 12 that actually went through the entire spring and made the commitment to see it through the spring.
Once the season began, eight have remained with six earning starting roles, including three seniors such as Jones, Guidry and Bowser, to bolster an already talented Livonia roster.
“It’s given us depth,” Mistretta said. “By design, we play 22 starters in the first quarter and have 10 other guys that play. Without these guys, we would not have that.”
Their contributions haven’t gone unnoticed, especially with Jones and Guidry being named two of the team’s captains.
Guidry has evolved into Livonia’s top receiver with 34 catches for 832 yards (24.47 yards per catch) and 12 touchdowns.
Bowser, a three-year starter at PCC, is the second-leading tackler on defense with 92 stops, eight tackles for loss, six quarterback hurries and two sacks.
Jones, who will play outside linebacker in the state final, has 68 tackles, 14 stops for loss, eight pass break-ups and four forced fumbles.
“It’s really emotional,” Jones said. “I loved the school that I was at. For the guys that came here it’s more than just winning a game. From where we’ve come, to be known in history as the first school (in Pointe Coupee Parish) to win a state title, that’s ultimately our goal.”