VILLE PLATTE – They say that one man does not make a team.
Although that sentiment may be true, losing a key piece to a puzzle that has been in the making for the last four years can truly put a kink in completing the job at hand.
Coming into the 2018 season, the Sacred Heart Trojans had their sights on bigger and better goals, like winning a district championship and making a deep run into the Division IV playoffs.
Even though those goals are still very attainable, they took a big hit when perennial all-district performer and two-time parish most valuable player JT Harper went down with a tear in his ACL during fall camp.
On top of his offensive prowess, 1,638 total yards and 23 touchdowns, Harper was a main cog on the defensive side of the ball at the safety position. Beyond that, the senior also brought a leadership quality that will truly be missed by his teammates.
“This summer was really good in terms of participation,” stated head coach Josh Harper. “The kids worked really hard and, I think, got stronger and better. The only negative, and it’s a big one, is losing our starting running back and free safety to an injury in a walk-through drill.”
“Losing someone that carried such a big load for us last season is going to hurt, no doubt,” Harper continued. “But, losing a leader on the field may hurt even more. We are just going to have to adjust and get other players ready to take up the slack. Good thing is that we have a number of returning starters on both sides of the ball that are ready for the challenge of the upcoming season.”
Offensively, the Trojans have decided to make a change in the scheme that they run. Going away from the single wing offense that has carried Sacred Heart the last three years, Harper and his staff have decided to move to the split back veer, an offense made famous by John Curtis and Acadiana High.
“We just felt one of our biggest issues the last few years was our blocking up front,” said Harper. “Some of the teams were bigger and more physical than we were. In the split back veer, we don’t have to block those guys. We want to make them have to read and hopefully it will slow some of those bigger guys down. Also, going to this offense will allow us to get to the second level a lot easier.”
No matter what offense the Trojans run, having your three-year veteran signal caller back is a huge plus. Senior quarterback Wesley Launey returns from a very productive season in which he threw for 731 yards. Launey also added 731 yards rushing, a skill that will be necessary in the new offensive scheme.
Joining Launey on the offensive side of the ball will be returning fullback Garrett Fontenot and wide out Alec Gotro. Fontenot was mainly utilized as a blocking back in the single wing, but will be called upon to run the football more in the new offense. Gotro, a versatile athlete, picked up 317 yards receiving and 353 yards rushing for Sacred Heart last season and looks to get the lion’s share of the rushes vacated by JT Harper.
When Gotro is not in the backfield, a committee of other running backs are set to rotate in Nick Perry, Noah Soileau and Alex McElwee should all see touches over the course of the season.
The offensive front will be a small concern for the Trojans in 2018. Sacred Heart will need to replace three of the five path clearers. Only Devin Nealms and Bo John Armand, who saw action toward the end of the season, remain from a group that helped produce over 3,000 yards of offense last year.
“Right now we have about seven to eight players rotating up front on offense,” said Harper. “We are just hoping to get the five main players in place, with the other players being ready to go. Last season, our offensive line was a big key to our success. Having the right guys in place is going to be a huge factor in how our offense goes.”
Rounding out the offense are Tyler Perron and Drew Bordelon at the wide out position with Cade Manuel securing the tight end spot.
One area that should not be a concern to Coach Harper and his staff is the defensive side of the ball. Sacred Heart returns eight players off of that unit. No, doubt the Trojans will lean heavily on their defenders in the early part of the season while the offense searches for a rhythm.
“I am really excited to see our defense get on the field,” stated Harper. “We’ve decided to go to a different look this year with the 3-3-5. I feel it is easy to line up in and it causes some confusion for the offense. No matter what kind of multiple looks your given from the offense, it is easy to get into your base defense and just go play.”
Headlining the returning starters on defense are Nick Perry and Garrett Fontenot. Perry was a first team all-district and all-parish performer in 2017. The senior had 52 total tackles and six sacks last season. Fontenot, also a first team all-district and all-parish pick, recorded 73 tackles and three sacks from his linebacker position.
Joining Perry and Fontenot on the defensive side of the ball will be returners Gotro, Launey, Manuel, Michael Monier, and Jalen Deville.
The kicking game will be well covered again this season, as Launey returns to his duties as punter, and kicker on special teams.
Sacred Heart will begin the season by hosting this year’s version of the T-Cotton Bowl against Ville Platte High. The Trojans then host long-time rival St. Ed’s before hitting the road to take on inter-parish foe Basile.
Week four for Sacred Heart will be a change from last year. The Trojans were scheduled to host False River for their first district contest, but the Point Coupee parish school discontinued their football program which meant that Sacred Heart would be missing a game. Fortunately for the Trojans, they were able to pick up Menard High School to fill that gap.
From there, Sacred Heart treks forward into the meat of their district schedule, as they face off against two of the better league teams, Catholic of Pointe Coupee and Opelousas Catholic. The Trojans must travel to Catholic of P.C. and then return home to tangle with Opelousas Catholic.
Three road games follow, as Sacred Heart meets up with district opponents North Central and Slaughter Community Charter School. The Trojans end the road stretch with a non-district tilt against Hanson Memorial.
Sacred Heart completes the regular season at home in their final district contest against Westminster.
“It is going to be a tough test for us the first five weeks of the season,” commented Harper. “Ville Platte will be a tough challenge both physically and emotionally and St. Ed’s is always a war. Then we get to play a very talented Basile squad and have to take on a good Menard team. Then we follow that up with our two biggest district rivals. I am just hoping to survive.”