Chuter takes proud Salmen program into 2018 season

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The football program at Salmen High School has enjoyed great success and true stability of the last three decades.

Since 1987, Salmen had just two head coaches, including Bill Stubbs (1987-2001) and Jerry Leonard (2002-2017).

Eric Chuter is hoping to expand that continuity with a long stay after being promoted to head coach of the Spartans earlier this year.

Chuter waited patiently for his opportunity.

He served an assistant coach under Jerry Leonard for 13 years (2005-2017) before he got the promotion in May when Leonard retired to concentrate on serving as assistant principal at Salmen. Chuter also served as offensive coordinator of the Spartans under Bill Stubbs in 1998 and 1999.

Chuter previously served as a head coach at Archbishop Hannan for three seasons for 2000-2003.

“It’s a privilege, to be honest with you,” Chuter said. “In the back of my head, I wanted to be a head coach again but I never thought it would be at Salmen because I never saw Jerry leaving. We want to keep the traditions alive.”

Chuter is a more mature person and coach than he was back in the St. Bernard Parish days at Archbishop Hannan.

“The biggest thing I’ve learned is patience,” Chuter said. “As a young coach, I wanted to win right now and I drove my players hard. I didn’t let my players know the real me. You cannot be 100 percent banging your head against the wall all the time. I have a good sense of humor and I care about people. I was such a taskmaster. Over the last several years, I’ve been humbled. I believe that will be a strength this time around.”

He takes over a program which won three state titles under Stubbs (1994, 1995, 2000).

Chuter was a star at Archbishop Shaw, part of a Class 4A state championship in 1987 under now Ponchatoula head coach Hank Tierney as an offensive lineman.

Leonard guided the Spartans to the state playoffs in his final two seasons, including a first-round playoff win over Lutcher a year ago. It was the first playoff win for Salmen since 2012.

Under Leonard, the last time Salmen advanced past the second round was in 2009, when the Spartans reached the semifinals for a second consecutive season. The Spartans were in the quarterfinals in 2002 and 2004.

Chuter faces a tough task in replacing superstar Eddie Smith, now at Alabama, along with star quarterback LJ Leonard, among others.

“Our skill group has been decimated,” Chuter said. “I don’t know how you replace Eddie Smith, who is now with Nick Saban. I talked to many coaches we played against. Teams avoided him at all costs on defense and what he did for us on offense and on special teams was truly special. He was our everything. We lost our starting receivers as well and a three-year starter in Leonard at quarterback. That is a ton to replace.”

The Spartans return four starters offensively.

That includes a trio of players on the offensive line in seniors Chris Merz (6-1, 280), Chris Jones (5-11, 230) and Eugene Wellington (5-11, 215). The new starters are seniors Mykel Mercadel (5-10, 240) and Devante Shepard (5-11, 215).

“Offensive line should be our strength, along with defensive line,” Chuter said. “Of course, they will be a lot of the same kids playing on both sides of the ball. Since Hurricane Katrina, I don’t know if we’ve been above 50-55 kids on the roster. The numbers have not been there. We have to play some both ways.”

The new starting quarterback competition finds junior Mikel Marco (6-1, 185) and sophomore Justin Hudson (6-1, 170) battling it out.

“We have a close race there,” Chuter said. “They have different skill sets. Mikel has experience at running back and linebacker. He is more of a runner. Justin is a legacy, the third brother to come through our school. He is more of a pure passer. We have a complimentary pair who can play. Both will have a role in our offense.”

The other returning starter is senior running back Aaron Williams (5-8, 190) while sophomore Karl Owens (5-6, 160) figures in the mix as well.

The new wide receives include a trio of seniors in Steve Sims (5-11, 160), Larry Barnes (5-9, 170) and Khalil Fields (6-1, 170). There are two others who figure in the mix as well.

“Larry Barnes had a heck of a summer and Steve Sims had a good summer as well,” Chuter said. “We’ve had two basketball kids come out in Tyrek Dardies and Ronald Lymuel who will help. We have another senior that came out in the spring in George Holloway. They have real skill sets. The biggest question mark is being football players, hitting and being hit. If they can adjust, they can be very good by week five and teams will have to account for.”

Salmen has a little more experience on defense, with six starters returning.

Looking to develop depth, the Spartans will feature five two-way starters.

They will utilize Merz and Jones up front as two-way performers and they are joined by returning starter Rashawn Gallaspy (6-4, 265), giving Salmen very good size at the point of attack.

“We are strong at defensive line,” Chuter said. “Gallaspy has offers from Army and McNeese and he is very good.

Marco is back as a starter at linebacker and he will be joined by Shepard and sophomore Karl Simmons (5-11, 190).

The secondary has experience with returning starters in Williams and senior Lance Spears (5-8, 190). Joining that pair will be Barnes, Fields and Zardies (6-1, 165).

“Safety is a strong spot with Spears, in particular,” Chuter said. “We expect good things from them.”

Senior Theo Batista (6-2, 150) is the kicker while Zardies will handle punting duties.

The Spartans open the season at home against tough Madison Prep before heading across town to face Northshore. A trip to Hammond will be followed by home games against Bogalusa and Loranger.

Once again, Salmen will face Franklinton twice, the first time in a non-district game on Oct 4 at Franklinton. After hosting Archbishop Shaw, the Spartans open district play at Pearl River on Oct. 19, host Franklinton in the district meeting on Oct. 26 and close the regular season against defending district champion and state runner-up Lakeshore on Nov. 2.

“Bogalusa, Madison Prep, Franklinton and Pearl River had coaching changes recently as well,” Chuter said. “I have been here for a while and I hope that helps.”

The concept of playing a rival in Franklinton twice is unique.

“I kind of put the bug in Coach Leonard’s ear about playing Franklinton twice,” Chuter said. “It didn’t go too well when we brought it up at the district meeting. We both had trouble finding games so we went ahead and did it. We actually enjoy playing them twice. It helps with planning. There are no secrets between us. Lakeshore lost a lot of players but they are well coached and still pretty good. Bernard is a heck of a player for them. I don’t know how we will stop him.”

Salmen must settle on a quarterback and develop depth to maintain the level of success of a year ago.

“If you play football at Salmen, you are expected to be a good, hard-nosed player,” Chuter said. “I don’t sit back and count wins and losses. I want to build some young men and continue this program in the direction it is going. Eventually, the wins and losses will take care of themselves.”


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