Sizing up the Catholic schools tough, but fun task
Who’s hot and who’s not, you ask?
Perhaps the answer is moot now that every non-public school makes the divisional playoffs.
But this is the most anticipated time of the year for frenzied locals who enjoy watching football at every level. And their time has now come as teams line up to kick off the 2016 campaign.
For the record, this season will mark the 116th consecutive year high school football will have been played in the New Orleans area. And that includes the 2005 season fractured by Hurricane Katrina.
The Catholic League will begin its 60th year as a district. It is such a hallmark league that even the city’s AAA baseball club wants its teams to use its facility for eight district games.
Zephyr Field will become a football stadium solely for schools in the Catholic League.
The cost to the schools will still be comparable to the rental fee at Tad Gormley Stadium ($3,200 per game if the competing schools want to keep all of the walk-up revenue).
But there is a trade-off that accommodates both the teams and Zephyrs: more Friday night games for the schools, and more revenue from parking and concessions for the baseball club.
Now, let’s take a look at the 11 Catholic teams of New Orleans:
The Catholic League
For more than a decade, Archbishop Rummel has dominated the state’s most recognizable district. But there might be a successor for the first time since St. Augustine won the District 9-5A title in 2013.
Graduation took its toll on the Raiders, and it showed in last week’s 20-6 jamboree loss to St. Paul’s.
Expect the district to be tight, with any of four teams capable of winning the title. But the Clarion Herald rates them in this order:
1. Brother Martin, 2. John Curtis, 3. Jesuit, 4. Rummel, 5. St. Augustine, 6. Holy Cross, 7. Archbishop Shaw.
As most of the other teams in the league, Brother Martin will have to break in a new quarterback. But the Crusaders have the size and experience to finish at the top.
They have arguably the best running back in the league in senior Bruce Jordan-Swilling, the district’s leading rusher in 2015 with 2,062 yards and 34 touchdowns.
Like his foster brother, All-District defensive back Tré Swilling, the 220-pound senior tailback has committed to their father Pat’s alma mater, Georgia Tech.
Another senior making his presence felt is wideout Jeremy Singleton, who can also fill in at quarterback.
John Curtis was given another preseason national ranking, and deservedly so. It’s an annual rite of passage in River Ridge.
The team was baptized with two district losses last season, so the Patriots have something to prove.
Because of its many attributes, Jesuit could have its best season since winning the Division I state championship in 2014.
The Blue Jays play intelligently, and they rarely make fundamental mistakes or commit foolish fouls or try to play above their ability.
Plus, Jesuit will have a senior running back in Connor Pruitt, another 1,000-yard rusher, and perhaps the largest offensive line in the district.
While the cupboard may not be totally bare at Rummel, head coach Jay Roth and his veteran staff are looking at a considerable rebuilding effort.
The Raiders have talent, but most of it is young and untested. The defense will be anchored by All-State senior linebacker Derrick Munson, one of the hardest hitters in the state.
The district’s most experienced quarterback is Justice McCoy, who has been the starter at St. Augustine for three years.
A capable passer, McCoy’s arm may have to carry the Purple Knights, whose defense is in a rebuilding mode.
Holy Cross and Shaw have several quality starters returning.
Chandler Fields, who started most games last year as a Holy Cross freshman, is now a seasoned veteran quarterback. He has four offensive starters returning with him. Look for the young Tigers to make things interesting if anyone takes their inexperience for granted.
Shaw is another program that has persevered through years of mostly playing a spoiler’s role.
The Eagles face three difficult predistrict opponents in East St. John, Teurlings Catholic and West Jefferson, against whom Shaw will be the visiting team.
It’s doubtful that the Eagles will be intimidated as they work their way into district play where they hope to be an even bigger spoiler.
How the others should fare
The hallmark of the area schools in the Archdiocese of New Orleans is the caliber of their coaching staffs in all sports. These programs are among the best prepared and managed in the state.
The lone Catholic school in the eight-team District 6-5A is defending champion St. Paul’s, which has the talent to repeat again.
The Wolves have two new offensive players who are as talented as any in these parts: senior wide receiver Timothy Bedford and junior running back Corey Williamson, both quick and strong.
As always under coach Ken Sears and his staff, the Wolves have size and speed on defense and handle the fundamentals of the game well.
How they’ll finish: 1. St. Paul’s, 2. Mandeville, 3. Ponchatoula, 4. Covington, 5. Slidell, 6. Fontainebleau, 7. Northshore, 8. Hammond.
There is no question that Lutcher is the team to beat in District 9-3A, but if there is a team to do so, it’s De La Salle.
St. James lost all-everything quarterback Lowell Narcisse to another ACL injury and could be vulnerable. The Cavaliers may be up to the challenge of both opponents.
In his fifth season as head coach, former Rummel assistant, Ryan Manale, and his staff have built a winning program by developing young, raw talent into fine-tuned units.
This season, the Cavaliers have the ability and numbers in 12 returning starters to take the next step by winning a district championship.
Versatile Julien Gums can pass or run with equal effectiveness. The Cavs also have a solid defense, led by tackle Danquan Edwards and linebacker Josh Paul.
The Cavs will play three difficult predistrict games against Gulfport and Hancock County, Mississippi, and Union Parish.
How they’ll finish: 1. De La Salle, 2. Lutcher, 3. St. James, 4. Lusher, 5 through 8. McMain, KIPP Renaissance, Clark and Sci Academy in any order.
Once again, St. Charles Catholic will have to contend with District 12-2A dynamo Riverside Academy. But the Comets will have much more than the Rebels to be concerned about.
Country Day and Newman have two of the most explosive offenses in the district, and West St. John is a bundle of speed.
But veteran coach Frank Monica thrives on getting his players ready for tough competition, so fans are in for exciting games.
How they’ll finish: 1. Riverside, 2. St. Charles Catholic, 3. Country Day, 4. Newman, 5. West St. John.
Archbishop Hannan enjoyed a 7-4 record under first-year head coach Scott Wattigny in 2015 and as the school’s enrollment continues to grow, so will the prospects of a consistently successful program.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the lake in Slidell, Pope John Paul II is beginning a new advent under coach Brett Bonnaffons after toiling through a 1-9 season last fall.
Now more experienced, Hannan looks forward to avenging a 12-point loss to Dunham in the Hawks’ season-opener at home.
The next two opponents are schools of smaller size: Covenant Christian and St. Martin’s, against which they hope to get the momentum train rolling into district play.
Pope John Paul II can only hope to improve this season despite a highly competitive schedule, although the record may not reflect it.
The Jaguars open with home games against Haynes Charter and South Plaquemines before visiting Newman. They also play Country Day on the road, so they will have had their share of hard knocks.
The offense should be improved with nine senior starters on that unit.
How they’ll finish: 1. Northlake Christian, 2. St. Thomas Aquinas, 3. Springfield, 4. Hannan, 5. Pine, 6. Pope John Paul II, 7. St. Helena.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
Nick Carbajal, a 6-5, 250-pound tight end and defensive lineman from Pope John Paul II
Spencer Cole, a 6-2, 195-pound linebacker from St. Paul’s
Julien Gums, a 5-11, 185-pound quarterback from De La Salle
Corey Dublin, a 6-3, 275-pound offensive tackle from Jesuit
Cameron Jackel, a 6-5, 305-pound offensive tackle from Archbishop Shaw
Laiton Johnson, a 5-9, 160-pound wide receiver and defensive back from Holy Cross
Derrick Munson, a 5-11, 194-pound linebacker from Archbishop Rummel
Andrew Rodrigue, a 5-9, 150-pound placekicker from St. Charles Catholic
Jeremy Singleton, a 5-11, 181-pound wide receiver from Brother Martin.