WALKER, La. (WAFB) - First up on Sportsline Summer Camp is one of the biggest stories of the off-season heading toward the start of the 30th season of Sportsline Friday Nite on August 30.
Chad Mahaffey, the former head coach at U-High, is now wearing the green and gold of Walker instead of the Cubs’ black and gold. He joined the Wildcats after winning a state championship with one of the most heralded lineups in the history of Louisiana high school football.
At 7-on-7 against Dutchtown, standout recruit Brian Thomas made plays similar to the ones seen last season against the Griffins in his first-ever prep football game. Thomas went on to be named WAFB Player of the Week.
The basketball phenom adjusted to the gridiron for a team that was 8-2 in the 2018 regular season with one of those losses to state champion Zachary. The Wildcats took an early exit from the Class 5A playoffs, their season ending on a two-game losing streak that included a blowout home field defeat at the hands of Hahnville.
“We want to win," said senior offensive lineman Tim Lawson. “I mean, we haven’t won a playoff game in years, so we want to be the first ones to be able to do that and set that mantra. So, everybody else after us expects that and pushes further.”
“We want to be unified," stated senior linebacker Zachary LaCour. “We want to make it to the dome this year and make it to the state championship and get past the first round of the playoffs. Great coach, very motivated. Everything is under control.”
“Usually, our team is not that disciplined and detailed," explained senior running back and linebacker Keondre Brown. “But Coach Mahaffey is all details. Everybody is focused through the workout.”
“Everything goes way faster than it has been. Everything is expected to be done on time and with precision. And if you don’t, you obviously have to go through - we call them happys - so, if you’re late, if you’re not doing something right, you have up-downs. Everybody has to be on the same page and everybody has to hold each other accountable," Lawson added.
Can the Walker Wildcats take the foundation Lester Ricard laid and take it to the next level with Chad Mahaffey?
“I don’t know how fast, you know, we can get there," explained Mahaffey. “You know, things are going to be a process, certainly. But I think all the pieces are in place. If you look around the state, all the teams that have been really successful programs on that level, there’s certainly no reason that can’t be done at Walker.”
Senior quarterback Ethan McMasters will lead an offense that returns eight or nine starters from last year. The players say Mahaffey’s hurry-up this year will be night and day. And although just four starters return on defense, senior playmaker Jalen Cook, who also plays offense, continued to shine in the spring game against Woodlawn.
In fact, the Wildcats’ two biggest threats basically play the same position. If McMasters can buy enough time to pick up some first downs scrambling and find Brian Thomas, who is an even bigger target at receiver with his 6-foot-4 frame. The junior top recruit can make opposing defenses miserable, as seen against the Panthers and against plenty of teams last year.
Even though he’s had a couple of Warrick Dunn Award winners in running backs Nick Brossette and Mke Hollins at U-High, Mahaffey is looking for balance between those big-time basketball stars in his passing game and a couple of experienced running threats out of the Wildcats’ backfield.
“I like going downhill. I can make a couple of people miss, but I like downhill running,” said Brown.
“Once you have players like Keondre or Ethan or Jaylon make a big play, everybody stands up and it energizes the whole team. It’s not just kind of dead. Once somebody gets rolling, everybody gets rolling and it’s just attack from there,” Lawson added.
“There’s certainly guys that are very talented and you want to, you know, kind of make sure those guys get their hands on the ball. At the same time, you don’t want it to just always go through one person,” Mahaffey explained.
“He’s been helping me a lot with reading defenses and all my reads on each play we got,” said McMasters. “And even during 7-on-7, if I make the wrong read, then he’ll let me know.”
We’ll preview 30 teams from June 14 through July 14 and 30 more after SEC and SWAC media days leading up to the start of our 30th season on August 30.
Catholic Pointe Coupee will be up next.