Archbishop Shaw, Connors look to take next step in rebuilding process

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Archbishop Shaw football

Is the cupboard full, bare or somewhere in between? That’s the question surrounding the Catholic League squad on the West Bank.

When Tommy Connors took over the Archbishop Shaw football program in 2017, there is no question that the cupboard was bare.

That is a bad thing at any level but it is particularly rough when you are competing in the highest classification in the state and in a very tough league.

A 2006 graduate of Archbishop Shaw and former All-State performer and All-American at Southeastern Louisiana, Connors has seen the Eagle program at its best. Now at its worst, he has begun the process of restoring it to its former glory.

The program receives a boost with a new on-campus football stadium this year. Connors has boosted his staff as well with the addition of Lou Valdin as his linebackers coach and special teams coordinator. Valdin comes back from retirement after a storied head coaching career which included winning a Class 5A state championship at Hahnville in 2003.

A year ago, Shaw suffered through a winless (0-11) campaign, making the playoffs in the ridiculous format that is the split in Louisiana football.

Shaw came close to victory once, falling to 4A power Salmen 21-20 in overtime. The Eagles simply could not muster any offense, scoring just 60 points in 11 games. They were shutout five times.

“We were down in the 50’s in numbers when I took over and now we are in the mid to high 70’s,” Connors said. “We also have 11 coaches. I like the numbers. I think we are improving but until we get a win under a belt, we cannot say that. The pace has picked up and practices are better. We’ll see come September.”

The Eagles return junior quarterback Tyler Nichol (5-7, 135), who became a starter during the 2017 season. Sophomore center Ethan Dickerson (5-11, 290) started as a true freshman, gaining valuable experience. Senior wide receiver Christian Jourdain (5-11, 165) should be good as well. Junior Jace Weileman (5-7, 140) return at wide receiver as well. Senior Ashton Johnson (5-10, 170) did not play last year and should be solid.

“Tyler is the ultimate competitor,” Connors said. “That’s what won him the job. They say accuracy is the ultimate determining factor for a quarterback and he is accurate with a stronger arm than his frame would suggest. We are confident he will get the ball where the play is designed. Ethan learned on the job, under fire last year. He will be much better. Receiver is an interesting position for us. Ashton Johnson and Christian Jourdain did not play last year and they are solid. Weileman returns as well.”

Up front, senior Austin Billiot (5-11, 235) is back at guard while junior tackle Zane Murphy (6-1, 267) returns as well.

Rayon McGrewJunior Rayon McGrew (6-0, 160) returns at running back after a year battling injuries. Junior Jamon Toney (5-5, 137) also returns at running back.

“Toney sees the play well and reacts,” Connors said. “McGrew missed the first half of last season. He did not have much of an offseason before that. His attitude has been great since he has returned. We expect him to be improved. We have to find seven guys that we are comfortable with up front. Whoever steps up, that is who will play.”

Defensively, senior defensive end Mark Smith (6-2, 255) is very good while senior linebacker Payton Clement (5-10, 200) is a standout, along with senior Miles Haney (6-2, 220). Junior Dorian Lewis (6-1, 185) is the best player in the secondary.

Up front, senior Kade Cardenal (6-1, 220) returns after a good junior season. Senior Jhaylin Adams (5-10, 260) should e solid as well. Junior Roy Pate (6-2, 180) brings experience at linebacker.

Senior Patrick Leonard (5-7, 182) returns as the kicker and punter.

“Smith, Cardenal and Pate were very good last year and we expect them to be even better this year,” Connors said. “Smith and Cardenal are seniors while Clement and Haney are physical, good football players. Haney is big and tough. Dorian Lewis graded highest last year in a good group. He moves from corner to free safety for us. The other three spots are competitive in the secondary. Senior Mark Williams should start at corner for us.”

The Eagles open their season on the road in Florida against Escambia High School before traveling to Belle Chasse. The first home game is Sept. 15 against Vandebilt Catholic.

“We don’t go down below 4A to play anyone,” Connors said. “Belle Chasse had a solid season and they play in a very good district. They should be good. We play Salmen again and they were outstanding last year. We go to Pensacola to face Escambia and they will have already played a game where we will not have.”

Shaw opens District 9-5A play on Sept. 21 at Tad Gormley Stadium against a good Holy Cross squad before hosting rival Archbishop Rummel in the annual Megaphone game on Sept. 29 and entertaining tough St. Augustine on Oct. 5.

The Eagles hit the road for a non-district game at Salmen before returning to Catholic League play on Oct. 19 against Jesuit at Tad Gormley. After hosting Brother Martin on Oct. 27, Shaw closes its regular season on Nov. 2 at Yulman Stadium against John Curtis Christian.

“When you look at the league, Curtis is always a reload, not a rebuild,” Connors said. “Rummel has a four-year starter in our league which makes them tough. Holy Cross has a new head coach who with an outstanding system. They will be ready to load. St. Aug is super fast. Jesuit and Brother Martin have up to 100 kids and they have depth. I know Brother Martin graduated offensive linemen but they will reload.”

In the infantile stage of starting over, progress can be measured by getting that first win. With experience returning and a good staff and attitude, look for Connors and his Eagles to achieve that and look for more in 2018.


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