St. James running back Sean LeBeouf is surrounded by teammates and coaches as he hoists the 2019 Allstate Sugar Bowl/LHSAA Football State Championship trophy for Class 3A. (Source: Johnny Lombardi)

VACHERIE, La. (WAFB) - Stop No. 20 for our 2020 Sportsline Summer Camp is a special one.

Robert Valdez and his St. James Wildcats ended a 40-year wait with last year’s perfect season and 2019 Class 3A state championship.

SPORTSLINE SUMMER CAMP: St. James Wildcats - Part 1
SPORTSLINE SUMMER CAMP: St. James Wildcats - Part 2

Last December, St. James finished with a 15-0 record and won the program’s first state championship in 40 years. Now, the celebration is over and the grind is back in full swing.

“For us, we’re still hungry,” said Valdez. “This is a new year, this is a new team. That was the 2019 version of St. James. This is the 2020 version.”

The Wildcats have been hitting the field hard and fast as they go into the new season, not as the hunter but the hunted.

A 15-0 perfect season, can you match that?

“Yeah. Well, you can be better. There’s things that you can do to be better, don’t necessarily have to show in the wins and losses. Basically, be better with execution, be better with how we treat each other, be better with how we prepare, be better how we handle the classroom, our community, all that encompasses being better. Then, once you can do [that], you’ll have the chance to possibly do it again,” Valdez replied.

“We know we have to work harder because we have a target on our back and people don’t think we’re going to be as good as last year because we lost Shamar Smith, Sean LeBeouf, Lamon Lewis, Deandre [Reynolds], Tyler [Steib], all the other big names,” said senior linebacker Kaleb Brown.

Yet, the Wildcats still have some big names and plenty of depth heading into the fall. On offense, Louisiana’s top 2022 prospect, Shazz Preston, is back at receiver after catching 63 passes for just over 1,000 yards and 20 touchdowns. Fellow junior Marquell Bergeron is in line to take over at quarterback after giving folks a sneak preview in last year’s 3A title game.

“It’s a lot of young talent on there but Marquell, our quarterback, Shazz Preston, they are the closet of friends, so we’re going to get it done,” said senior safety J’Kory Ester.

On the other side, the Wildcats return three all-state talents. Ester, a free safety, leads the secondary after snagging six interceptions last year, while Brown looks to build from a season that ended with 128 tackles. And also in the front seven is senior defensive end Saivion Jones.

“6-[foot]-5 and runs like a receiver,” Valdez described Jones.

The 245-pound LSU commit is back to ruin quarterbacks’ lives and make big plays for his team.

“I can sack the quarterback,” said Jones. “In a crucial moment, like third down when the defense needs to get off the field and the offense needs to score, I will make that sack.”

“He doesn’t even talk about football. He’s just a quiet, calm, humble person. You wouldn’t even think he’s a four-star, five-star because he doesn’t talk about his success or none of that,” said Brown.

If there are two things for certain in beautiful downtown Vacherie, it’s energy and confidence is always at 10.

“Personally, I think nobody else works as hard as us. So, if we put the work in, everything will come out,” Ester added.

Bergeron will be taking over for Warrick Dunn Award winner Shamar Smith, the quarterback who was WAFB’s 2019 Sportsline Player of the Year. With COVID-19 shutting down any chance of the usual 7-on-7 competitions we’re used to seeing during Sportsline Summer Camp, there is bound to be a bigger drop off in experience and recognition for his role in the passing game.

“It hurts with the chemistry and the team building. In that aspect of things and the team building part but just like everything else, we’ll find a way to overcome and we’ll find a way to do what we need to do. I mean he scored a couple of ... he scored a touchdown against Green Oaks on a run play and then, he came back and threw a touchdown pass in the state championship game, so I’m excited about him and what he brings to the table and just like I said, give him an opportunity,” Valdez explained.

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