De La Salle well-equipped to face gauntlet of tough games in 2019
The past few years have provided great times for the De La Salle Cavaliers football program which at one time was a program that wasn’t seen as a threat.
The Cavaliers have entered territory that has never been seen before in the program’s history in the last three seasons, reaching the semifinals in 2016 and 2018 and the title game in 2017. De La Salle has earned a top five seed each of the past three seasons.
Unfortunately, the Cavaliers could not finish, falling to powerful Parkview Baptist in 2016 and losing to perhaps the best team in Louisiana in any classification in University High in 2017 and 2018 as well.
Last season, De La Salle had a very tough schedule, facing St. Augustine, Riverside Academy, two-time Class 4A state champ Karr. There was also a tough loss, 14-12, to the St. Charles Catholic Comets for the district championship.
Entering his eighth season as head coach of the Cavaliers, Ryan Manale has done a tremendous job. His teams have won over 25 regular season contests past three seasons. He knows it will not be easy to duplicate the success of the three previous seasons.
“It is an honor to lead this great institution to football stability and success. Our success is a result of many things,” noted Manale. “We have great people on the Avenue with an excited alumni base. But we couldn’t do anything without the Student Athletes within our program that understand and live our values.”
De La Salle must replace six highly successful players. Three are now playing at the next level as running back Kendall Collins is across the lake, playing for Frank Scelfo and the Southeastern Lions. Fullback Kendall Baker is a freshman at Northwestern State. Offensive lineman Bryce Fricke is now at Dodge City Community College in Kansas.
The Cavaliers this year will be led on offense by junior running back Montrell Johnson, a 6-foot-1, 195 pounder who had 115 rushing yards and 978 total yards last season.
The offensive line is set to include seniors Kyle Volpi (6-2, 295) and Southeastern commitment Noah Devlin (6-3, 290) along with juniors Christopher Paz (6-1, 255), Holden Kareokowsky (6-3, 290) and John Martin (6-4, 340). The tight end is a returning senior, Lemaj Kendrick (6-2, 220).
The offense includes a new quarterback as a season-ending injury to senior quarterback Fisher Rojas in the spring has presented an opportunity for sophomore Cole Milford (5-11, 160) to step into the role.
The wide receiving corps, a group who will be coached this season by former New Orleans Saints wide receiver Robert Meachem, includes senior Richon Porter (5-10, 175) and a pair of juniors, Nick Tate (5-11, 160) and Nixon Bernard (5-10, 160).
Veteran defensive coordinator Eddie Jaquillard has a returning nucleus of seniors and juniors with which a stout unit should be formed. Key figures will include senior defensive back Joseph Husband (5-10, 165). The others who will play in the secondary will be seniors Robert Hudson (5-9, 165), Jacolby Hankton (5-8, 175) and Cavaliers basketball standout Jalen Ned (6-1, 180).
Up front on the defensive line will be senior Efrem Scott (6-0, 190) along with a trio of juniors – Ja’marian Peterson (6-2, 225), Dwane Tillis (5-10, 230) and Trey Hand (5-11, 285)..
The linebackers are all returning players as well with senior Ashton Robinson (5-11, 215) as the most experienced performer. Junior Shamar Keelen (6-0, 180) and sophomore Jude Milford (5-10, 185) round out the first string.
The specialists are mostly new with junior Ian Helmcke (5-9, 155) lined up to assume placekicking duties while senior Adrien Goudail (5-11, 160) will serve as punter. The aforementioned Husband will be the primary kick and punt returner again this year.
The Cavaliers have a challenging schedule again this year, opening against last year’s 4A state finalist Warren Easton on Sept 5 before a week two test against potent Country Day coached by former DLS assistant Joe Chango.
On Sept. 20, De La Salle treks to LaPlace to take on the now former district rival St. Charles in the re-dedication game for their newly remodeled Dupuy Stadium. The task of compiling wins doesn’t get any easier in weeks for the Cavaliers on Sept 27 when the defending 3A State champions from Amite come to New Orleans for Homecoming.
The start of October features a trip across Lake Ponchartrain with a Oct. 4 matchup against 2018 Class 4A quarterfinalists Lakeshore Titans. The next week, De La Salle will travel to Baton Rouge on Oct. 11 to face Southern Lab on the Bluffs. The final non-district game in week seven bring out-of-state competition when West Florida visits from Pensacola on Oct 18 at Pan American.
District games start on Oct. 24 with Haynes, the only district opponent returning to the Cavaliers’ schedule. Muss Bertolino Stadium is the site of a matchup on Halloween night against the Kenner Discovery Swamp Owls. The regular season ends on Nov. 7 as the Cavaliers will face Thomas Jefferson.
Manale sees a small district as a plus for his program, despite the scheduling challenges.
“The district we have been thrown into for the next two years is beneficial as it allows us to play seven challenging non-district games,” Manale explained. “I know most the coaches in this district and they do a great job.”
De La Salle has no shortage of appealing games as a result of the need to fill many weeks, and the program has embraced some of the best opposition possible.
“The overall outlook for this year is exciting,” Manale said. “Starting in the Jamboree competing against Ponchatoula and LSU quarterback commitment TJ Finley to facing nationally-ranked Warren Easton in Week 1 to Tulane QB commit Justin Ibieta and Country Day in Week 2 to Coach Monica’s St. Charles Comets after that and then hosting defending state champion Amite Week Four. The list goes on and on. Now we just need to find and develop the players that want to be challenged, face adversity and grow together.”
That work in preseason will start in earnest with a trip Thibodaux as part of the practice schedule.
“We usually camp for either a weekend or a day and past two years we have traveled for the day down to Nicholls State,” Manale said. “We love to get away for camp as It is always great to get away from the city and be able to focus on football. At the same time, our kids are exposed to local colleges and see the quality options our state has to offer.”
De La Salle expects to be battle tested by the time the LHSAA Select playoffs roll around and hope to be playing for the Division II state in December.
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Randy Pistorius is a lifelong resident of South Louisiana and is currently working in the communications field in the Baton Rouge Metropolitian Area. Randy’s start in journalism came while still in high school at De La Salle in New Orleans and that carried with him to Southeastern Louisiana University where he wrote for the Lions Roar and also worked in…