The St. James Wildcats made big news this off season, losing head coach Dwain Jenkins to Lutcher and snagging Scotlandville's Robert Valdez to take his place.
The former Southern Jaguar is making the transition from the Scotlandville Hornets back to the River Parishes where he spent years leading the Rams of West St John.
Valdez sent a couple of successful quarterbacks to Southern and now he's teamed with LSU recruit Lowell Narcisse, who was the Sportsline Courage Award winner for 2015 after overcoming that knee injury to lead his team to the Superdome.
"I do have arguably the best quarterback in the state, but we've got to run the ball," Valdez said. "We have to run the football. It's something I've been able to do at the other programs I've been."
Narcisse showed he's back and better than ever at quarterback in the Wildcats' spring game against Helen Cox. Valdez is encouraged by his senior leadership and the guys on the other side of the ball who show the potential to play some hard-nosed defense to go with the Wildcats big-play spread offensive attack.
"This transition could be difficult had the seniors not bought in, and I think that Lowell Narcisse and Camrin Grows and Dontaz Sterling, those guys have really bought in and those guys really believe in the process in the way we're going, the direction we're going," Valdez said.
"The main thing our coach emphasized this whole spring is blocking and tackling. If you can block and tackle, you can be successful." said Narcisse.
Expectations are high in St. James Parish as the Wildcats, who were the 3A non-select state champion runners-up in 2015, prepared for the season by participating in the Adidas State 7 on 7 tournament in St. Amant on Wednesday.
Valdez said his long-standing relationship with Narcisse, who is unquestionably the leader in the locker room, helped bridge the gap between him and his new players. For Valdez, it's his third coaching job in one year.
The Wildcats open the season hosting another river parish power Valdez used to coach, West St John.
While Narcisse was uncharacteristically off the mark Wednesday against Edna Karr, the offensive game plan has mostly stayed intact. Defensively, the Wildcats are switching to 3-4 scheme so growing pains - mostly communication issues - were apparent. Karr scored more than 30 points, the lone bright spot an interception by junior Shawn Preston.
Preston also had a pick six in St. James spring game against Helen Cox and Valdez liked what he saw from his defense in that one.
But Narcisse and the offense stood out, with several scoring strikes to Dontaze Costly, who has switched to that No. 9 jersey we like so much.
"Being a runner up at the state championship, we've got to make it back there," said senior linebacker Camrin Grows. "Of course, by making it back there we're trying to finish and compete at everything we do. That's what coach Valdez told us."
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