The past month has seemed more like an eternity for Nick Saltaformaggio rather than a four-game suspension meted out by the Louisiana High School Athletic Association.
Hahnville’s head football coach returns to the sideline this Friday when the reeling Tigers travel to Houma to face undefeated Terrebonne in search of their first District 7-5A victory. Kickoff at Terrebonne’s Tom B. Smith Stadium is scheduled for 7 p.m.
A Class 5A state finalist last season, Hahnville (1-3, 0-1) enters on a three-game losing streak following losses to Destrehan (28-15), Brother Martin (37-20) and Ehret (26-0) that preceded a 45-0 season-opening win against West Jefferson. Terrebonne (4-0, 0-0) is playing its 7-5A opener.
“Friday can’t get here quickly enough,’’ Saltaformaggio said on Monday following conclusion of his suspension for the role he played in the LHSAA’s blockbuster Aug. 23 ruling to declare Vandebilt Catholic transfer quarterback Andrew Robison ineligible due to recruiting violations. “Hopefully we can get a win because we desperately need a win.’’
Although Friday’s loss at home against St. Charles Parish rival Destrehan was devastating, it was not nearly as devastating as the LHSAA ruling Robison ineligible at Hahnville for the 2018-19 school year and suspending Saltaformaggio for the first four games.
Hahnville additionally was placed on administrative probation by the LHSAA and fined $2,500.
Robison has a hearing scheduled before the 29th Judicial Court in Hahnville on Monday. A temporary restraining order issued by the court on Sept. 18 that prevented the LHSAA from implementing its sanctions expires then.
Despite the TRO, Hahnville school officials elected not to play Robison Friday against Destrehan in fear of further sanctions by the LHSAA that could include forfeits, additional fines and expansion of the penalties to include prohibition from competing for championship honors.
Robison also is not scheduled to play against Terrebonne on Friday.
“His high school football future is in the hands of the LHSAA,’’ Saltaformaggio said. “To me, it’s really not in the hands of the court. It’s in the hands of the LHSAA and if they can see some reason why he can be on the field, then he’ll certainly be on the field.
“But our problems don’t start and end with him. . . . Right now we’re not a good football team. It’s hard for me to say that because I’m at Hahnville High School.
“I told the kids Saturday, we’ve got to win six games to get in the state playoffs and we’ve got to win seven to make sure we have a first-round home game. We have won one and there’s only six left. So we have a lot of work to do.
“We’re going to find out over these next six weeks if we’re able to negotiate the schedule and get in the state playoffs, or for the first time since 1998 Hahnville won’t be in the state football playoffs.
“It’s the reality of where we are. I don’t blame any of that on my suspension. I don’t blame any of that on the LHSAA. I don’t blame any of it on anything other than we’re having one of those years.’’
Saltaformaggio credited the work of his coaching staff and particularly that of associate head coach Mike Silva for keeping the Tigers pointing in a positive direction.
“I would be remiss if I did not say how good of a job I thought our coaching staff did through all of this. Especially, Mike Silva,’’ Saltaformaggio said. “I don’t think the average fan realizes all that goes into being a head coach. And Mike, never having been a head football coach before, I thought, did a fantastic job.
“I know our record doesn’t indicate that. But the fact is we’ve improved every week. And he went through a buzz saw (Ehret, Brother Martin and Destrehan). I don’t care who you are, you could be Nick Saban, and that’s just a buzz saw of a schedule in high school football to have to go through.
“Mike kept our locker room intact. He kept our kids fired up. So it’s really made my return a lot easier. Getting back on the sidelines on Friday night, at least I won’t be walking around with my hands in my pocket anymore. I’m excited about getting back and see if we can continue to improve and see if we can get enough wins to play in week 11.’’
Although his suspension only precluded him from participating in games, Saltaformaggio said he opted to step back and empower Silva and the staff to make any and all necessary coaching decisions regarding practice and game planning.
Saltaformaggio said he spent his four game nights at home except for the third installment when he served as an analyst for an internet broadcast of the Holy Cross at Chalmette game on Sept. 14.
Saltaformaggio blistered the LHSAA during the broadcast for its handling of the Robison case, an action he now questions having undertaken.
“I am very passionate about what I believe in,’’ Saltaformaggio said. “I guess I was hurt. I am (still) hurt and I was saying stuff. Not that I regret saying it. A lot of people wanted to say it, but they’re not going to say anything because I guess they had something to lose. I didn’t have anything to lose anymore. I had lost my football team.
“I’m watching a kid be ineligible who doesn’t deserve to be ineligible. I didn’t have anything to lose anymore. I said a lot of things that a lot of coaches wanted to say. But I can’t do that anymore. I have to be good for Hahnville and for Hahnville football and that’s really why I’m not going to (comment) anymore.
“My goal is to protect Hahnville as a school and protect the Hahnville football team. And that’s where I am right now. As badly as I feel for Andrew, I would feel 1,500 times worse if something were to happen to our school and our football program due to decision that really is out of our hands. It’s out of our hands completely.
“I don’t mean to sound like I’m not involved with it anymore, but I’ve just got to focus on our (players) right now. I’ve learned through this whole process is that the only one who matters in making this decision is (LHSAA executive director) Eddie Bonine.
“It doesn’t matter what a judge says to us. It doesn’t matter what the (LHSAA) Executive Committee says. None of that matters to me anymore. The only thing that would matter as it relates to this case is what Eddie Bonine says and Eddie Bonine says, no, he’s not playing. So my focus is on Hahnville and that’s where we’re going to go with it. My goal is to get us better. My goal is to get Hahnville in the state playoffs.’’
So now the Tigers and their coach move forward, with only six senior starters at the forefront of what already was expected to be a challenging rebuilding project before Robison arrived.
The availability of their best player, SMU-committed wide receiver Jha’Quan Jackson, also is in question mark with last season’s starting quarterback plagued by tendonitis in an Achilles’ tendon.
“We’ve got to stop turning the ball over,’’ Saltaformaggio said. “We’re averaging four turnovers a game. We turned it over five times against Destrehan. And when you’re playing Ehret, Brother Martin and Destrehan and you’re giving them five extra possessions, you’re going to lose. We’ve got to get better and keep working hard and hopefully in week 11 we’re in and we see what we can do.’’
GONE, NOT FORGOTTEN: Although ineligible, Robison continues to practice with the Tigers, lend support and chart plays on the sideline during games, Saltaformaggio said.
A 6-foot, 192-pound senior who passed for 2,699 yards and 34 touchdowns last season at Vandebilt Catholic, Robison has a standing scholarship offer from Nicholls State.
“He practices every day, like a champ,’’ Saltaformaggio said. “He practices every day. He’s has a solid Nicholls State offer. Nicholls State wants to sign him. So he’s got a lot of light at the end of his tunnel.’’
BUDGET CONSCIOUS: With an eye on the bottom line, Warren Easton coach Jerry Phillips made a calculated decision prior to the Eagles’ 37-34 victory against Landry-Walker at Pan American Stadium two Fridays ago that proved most fortuitous.
Phillips instructed his offensive assistants to attempt two-point conversions following any touchdown scored in the north end zone.
Easton practices at Pan Am and the facility has no net to prevent PAT kicks from leaving the stadium in the north end zone, which sits adjacent to the overgrown vegetation that once was City Park’s former East Golf Course.
Having already lost several new footballs kicked into the high grass which were not found, Phillips decided that going for two points would be financially prudent.
The Eagles scored three two-point conversions in that end zone versus Landry-Walker.
“It worked in our favor,’’ Phillips said. “We had lost some footballs back there because you can’t find them. So I told the coaches, we’re not being disrespectful to Landry-Walker, but when we’re on this end of the field, we’re going for two, because we had lost like $300 in footballs back there.
“And we only won the game by three points, so if we don’t go for those two-point conversions, we may lose the game. So it definitely worked in our favor.’’
THE HALL OF FAMER, AGAIN: For those keeping score -- and it should be noted that J.T. Curtis is not -- one of the nation’s most iconic football coaches has been enshrined into a sixth different Hall of Fame.
Curtis was honored at halftime of his team’s 45-16 District 9-5A victory against Brother Martin Friday night at Tulane’s Yulman Stadium with the announcement that he had been inducted into the John Curtis Christian School Hall of Fame.
Curtis, age 71 and celebrating his 50th season as head coach of the Patriots, was surrounded by his wife Lydia, his mother Merle, sons Johnny and Jeff, his daughter Joanna along with all of their family members that included seven grandchildren.
Johnny Curtis, his wife Dawn and their three sons, Jay, Michael and Jason, took in the festivities via Facetime from Muncie, Indiana, where Johnny serves as the Run Game Coordinator/Inside Linebackers coach for Ball State University.
“To be honest with you, I was a little self-conscious,’’ J.T. Curtis said referring to the fact it involved the school his father founded. “I don’t know how to describe (his feelings) exactly.
“I do appreciate it. It is an honor and any time anybody inducts you into their Hall of Fame it’s an honor. I feel the same way about this one as I did the other ones. I really deeply appreciate it.’’
Curtis previously has been inducted into the hall of fames for the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame, the Allstate Sugar Bowl, the Louisiana High School Athletic Association, the National Federation of State High School Athletic Associations and Louisiana College, his alma mater.