Brian Glover believes nothing compares to the feelings a football Friday night brings.
As he prepares to coach Thrive Academy in its first varsity season, Glover is banking on the fact that his players will feel the same way.
“I’m excited about the kids seeing what Friday night football is all about. I think that will give them extra juice … excitement,” Glover said. “Last year we did well, but that was (junior varsity) football. This is the real thing.”
When classes begin next week students at Class 1A Thrive and Class 3A Collegiate Baton Rouge will settle into brand new campuses. Less than three weeks later, the two schools will play their first varsity football games.
“Probably a third of our players will be freshmen and about half the players we had last year had never played football before,” Collegiate coach Kinte Hill said. “So I am hoping for a lot of growth, especially in terms of learning the game of football and learning how to be young men.”
It is a lot to process and it will be tough for either school to register a blip on Baton Rouge’s crowded high school football landscape in 2019. Their respective coming-out parties mirror the nontraditional growth of education which now translates into sports.
Most facilities were built from the ground up for the two schools over the past year. The coaches concede that their building process will likely take longer.
Collegiate BR gets footing
Hill is a former North Iberville High School player who spent eight years coaching junior high football at Episcopal. A year ago, he ordered navy helmets for the Dolphins, along with a set of jerseys now used for practices on the soccer fields at nearby Independence Park.
This year, Hill said, will be crucial, though his 50-player team will not play for district honors. Collegiate is a type 2 charter school now located on Lobdell Boulevard.
“Last year we had kids that didn’t know each other and they didn’t know football,” Hill said. “The majority of our kids hadn’t played before. Now this year they can help each other.
“Our district has U-High, Parkview, West Feliciana and Madison Prep and I knew we weren’t ready for that. This year, with the new school facilities, I think there will be more of a sense of ownership and pride. I believe that can carry on with our teams, too.”
There are special challenges with inexperienced players. Because there are no hashmarks on the soccer field, a young receiver may run 15 yards instead of 10 on a short pass pattern.
“We need to be more disciplined than last year,” quarterback Cardell Harris said. “But we are working hard. I can’t wait for the season to start.”
Other coaches are eager to start their seasons, too. Former LSU basketball player Brian Bridgewater is the Dolphins’ boys coach. Bridgewater played at both Episcopal and Scotlandville. Ashley Blake, an ex-Southern player who also played with WNBA star Seimone Augustus at Capitol, is the girls coach.
Different drive for Thrive
There was a telling moment when Thrive submitted its membership forms to the LHSAA. The school located across from the Louisiana School for the Deaf on Brightside could not check a box listed for school type.
“Boarding school” was not one of the options the LHSAA had on its forms. The Class 1A school is one of the smallest playing Class 1A football with about 100 students in grades 9-12. The state-operated school also has students in grades six through eight.
Students are required to live in a dormitory on campus from Sunday through Thursday nights. Most are from the Baton Rouge area, but some come from as far west as St. Martinville and from New Orleans in the east. Per LHSAA rules, students who come from outside the traditional attendance zone for Thrive must sit out a year.
Though the Bulldogs have not played a varsity game, senior defensive lineman Alven Johnson has committed to Baylor. At 6-foot-4, 250 pounds, Johnson looks the part of a recruit. He is entering his seventh year at the school and did not play organized football until last year.
Johnson is an anomaly. Glover, who played for and later served as head coach at Pointe Coupee Central, recalls his first practices at the school. He arrived at Thrive just in time for the 2018 spring practice at nearby Roosevelt Park.
“It was clinic – we had to show them how do you put pads on, where do the pads go in your pants,” Glover recalls with a smile. “It was an eye-opener for me. I came with a schedule for what we could get done in 10 days of spring. We scrapped everything. They had to learn the football ABCs.”
The Bulldogs did go 5-1 in JV games last year. The size and strength of players on the varsity level is Glover’s biggest concern. He wonders how his 35-player team will adjust while competing in District 6-1A, a league that includes traditional power Southern Lab.
Ground behind the school is now a practice field. Former Scotlandville and Southern Lab coach Lonnie Machen is the boys basketball coach. Tara Hollins, who led Port Allen to the postseason just a couple of years ago, is the volleyball coach.
“I've liked being part of the school as it has grown, over the years," Johnsob said. "I can’t wait to play this year.”