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St. James High School head coach Robert Valdez watches his team take on Lutcher High School during a boys varsity football game in Vacherie, La., Friday, Oct. 11, 2019.

To hear Shawn Preston Sr. tell it, Shazz Preston was something special from the moment he was born.

When Lori gave birth to Shazz, he came out screaming. But only for a few seconds.

“After about 15 or 20 seconds, he just went silent,” Shawn Sr. said. “He had to spend some time in the neo-natal unit because he had some problems. We’re blessed that everything worked out.”

Little Shazz may have had a few obstacles to overcome in the days immediately following his birth, but ultimately he grew big and strong. Then he grew into one of the best football players in the state of Louisiana, a star for St. James with offers from LSU, Texas A&M, Mississippi State and several other major college programs, even though he is only a sophomore.

You read that right.

The 6-foot, 173-pound sophomore is one of the top wide receivers in the state at one of the top teams in the state this year, with 41 catches for 627 yards and six touchdowns. He also has a punt return for a touchdown.

St. James is ranked No. 1 in Class 3A and is the No. 1 seed in the playoff bracket. The Wildcats are undefeated at 12-0 as they head into Friday night’s quarterfinal matchup against No. 24 seed Brusly.

Wildcats coach Robert Valdez said his team might be feeling the pressure to stay at the top.

“When you’re 12-0, everybody sends their best,” Valdez said. “There’s no room for error. The thing about this team is, we don’t know how they’ll handle adversity because they haven’t had much. Everything’s been so smooth. How will they face adversity and how will they handle it?”

After overcoming his own adversity early in life, Shazz has built a reputation as a hard worker as well as a stellar receiver. He said people first began taking notice of him when he was in middle school.

“In about the eighth grade. That’s when people’s heads started turning,” he said. “It has grown, and I’m hoping it’s still growing. I think it’s just my work ethic all around, if you see me at camps, in games, 7-on-7s, the way I handle myself.”

Shawn said he knew early on that his son was something special.

“He’s always done stuff at an early age that the average kid struggled with,” Shawn said. “The good thing about it is, he doesn’t know how good he is.”

Said Shazz: “I think can do more. I think I have more work in me. I can improve as a person on and off the field.

“People don’t know this because they look at his size, but he’s really down to earth,” Valdez said. “He’s a very cerebral, regular 10th-grader and a very team-oriented guy. Physically, he’s very capable of making some plays and keeping us multiple in our offensive scheme.”

Shawn said he and Lori have worked hard to keep their son humble. It’s part of what comes with being the son of a former player (Assumption) and former coach (Thibodaux, Assumption, Hahnville and St. James). Not just that; Shawn is a former Southern teammate of Valdez, and the two were coaches together at Thibodaux. After spending several years on the sideline watching his oldest son, Shawn Jr., play (he’s now at Mississippi State) and now Shazz, Shawn Sr. has removed himself to the bleachers for everyone’s benefit.

“I guess because of my age, I handle it much better because I know the role I should play,” Shawn Sr. said. “I think we do a good job of maintaining, he’s coach and I’m dad. The kids are players; they’re not Shawn’s sons. Both of us do a good job of keeping it the way it’s supposed to be.”

Said Valdez: “We’re almost like family. We get along like family. Some days are good and some days are not so good. Definitely like family. It has been hard sometimes. Even though we’re teammates and all that, you have to give his son the same treatment as you give all kids. I respect him as a father, and he respects me as a coach.”