Despite a harrowing three-game stretch to start the season, no one is surprised that the St. Paul’s football team is right where it is — a solid 2-1 overall.
That’s saying something, when you lined up against the likes of Karr, Jesuit, and McDonogh 35 to begin the season. But St. Paul’s is accustomed to the pole position after winning nearly every District 6-5A championship in the past decade.
The Slidell Tigers, however? Well, some might say they’re happy as can be with the 3-0 record they’ve compiled in 2014. What more can be said of a team that lost to graduation a 2,000-yard rusher in Montel Williams, its starting quarterback, its top receiver and its entire starting offensive line?
Despite the personnel losses, Slidell has looked solid with wins over Chalmette, Bonnabel, and Lakeshore. But the “real” season — the District 6-5A season — begins Friday night when the Tigers travel to Hunter Stadium to play St. Paul’s. It’s a game the Wolves won 42-14 last year.
Slidell players and coaches say, however, this is a much different Tigers’ team than last year. They like the defense, which starts seven seniors, and seem to have found a replacement for Williams in senior running back Kain Mitchell, who rushed for 153 yards and a touchdown last week against Lakeshore.
A host of talented young players have complemented the upperclassmen well, as evidenced by the 268 yards Slidell totaled on the ground against Lakeshort.
“Last year, we were kind of scared I think,” Mitchell said. “So we’ve been waiting for this game for the longest time. I think we’ll come out ready to play...(What’s different) is new schemes. This team is about football. We eat, breathe and sleep it. (Last year) there were a lot of things going on; the first year with a new coach, (injuries.) This year, we’re focused.”
Larry Favre, the longtime area coach now in his second year at Slidell, agreed.
“It’s a belief system,” he said. “I don’t know if the kids believed that last year they could win against certain teams in this district. We try not to emphasize our opponents, but the kids know what they’ve done against those same schools in the past few years. They also know what they haven’t done.”
It’s not as if Slidell was a slouch in 2013. The Tigers finished 5-6, and 3-4 in district, reaching the Class 5A playoffs (a first-round loss to top-ranked Acadiana.) But something’s markedly different now, they said.
Favre pointed to the defense. He cited the secondary (Jon Elkins, Lionel Craig, Reuben Cousin, and Rendell LaMalle) and linebackers Matt Laferrara and Justin Legier as particular standouts to date. All but Laferrara are seniors.
“We knew they would have to carry us on defense until the offense was ready,” he said. “They’ve taken the pressure off the offense. Defense wins, and we were the opposite last year, when we put up a ton of points and stats, but couldn’t stop anyone.”
Malter Scobel, who has made several stops as a head coach in the area, now is Slidell’s defensive coordinator. Favre said Scobel’s addition to the staff has paid immediate dividends.
“He brings an attention to detail, and he brings confidence,” Favre said. “The scheme is more of a college scheme so it’s complex. But the (players) enjoy it. I think we can get better as the season goes on.”
Laferrara agreed with his coach.
“I think we can make it more comfortable for the offense, give them the ball back in better position instead of having to drive down the whole field every time,” he said.
“You have to trust your teammates that they will do their part.”
Legier said he’s ready to do his part on Friday.
“Our team has to come out fired up,” he said. “This entire week we’ve been fired up. This is district. This is where it really starts.”