East Jefferson turns to proven running game, Allelo for success
It seems like just yesterday but it is so far away.
That is the feeling among supporters, coaches and players at East Jefferson High School.
In 2013, the Warriors were the best story in Louisiana, a true feel good story, as they captured the Class 4A state championship, going unbeaten and shocking powerful Karr 38-28 in the title game.
The success catapulted head coach Nick Saltaformaggio into a job opportunity at Hahnville, which he could not pass up.
In 2014, veteran coach Marc Martin took over and East Jefferson reached the second round of the playoffs before bowing out.
The last two seasons were painful, in more ways than one.
In 2015, East Jefferson fell to 2-8 under Martin. In 2016, Martin had to take a sabbatical after being injured when struck by a former student-athlete. Though he was eventually able to attend games, offensive coordinator Frank Allelo, who coordinated the offense in the state championship season, took over.
It was not easy for anyone involved with the program. The Warriors struggled to a 3-7 mark.
Now, Allelo has taken over on a permanent basis, providing stability to the situation. There are no lingering doubts about who is in charge.
“I went in and asked the administration to make a decision,” Allelo said. “The kids looked at it as two head coaches. I can work well with Marc but it was difficult for the players. Once the decision was made, we made a commitment to set a tone. Accountability, commitment, team are the words we have used to put this program back where it needs to be.”
Fortunately, the struggles of youth should progress to the fortunes of experience as East Jefferson has a host of players who have gained valuable experience over the last two seasons who return in 2017.
“We were too young and immature a year ago,” Allelo said. “We purged some attitudes from the program, got to work lifting and getting bigger. The kids are so dedicated. I’m consistent with them and I think they respect that. I’m excited to see how this is going to work out. We have a lot of guys back, including 23 seniors.”
The Warriors return 10 players who started games a year ago on offense, including standouts in senior quarterback Gerard Walker (5-8, 160) and senior running backs Desmond Lastie (5-9, 210) and Zack Wiedow (5-8, 160), along with junior running back Cornelius Beasley (5-9, 155).
The split end is junior Kyren Bush (6-3, 180) who has great size and ability. Up front, the Warriors are huge and experienced, averaging 282 pounds per person. Senior guards Mason Gautreau (6-3, 310) and Bruce Bester (5-10, 280) are feature players, along with senior center Joshua Martin (5-10, 290). Junior Dionte Butler (5-10, 250) and sophomore Elder Elias (6-3, 280) are the tackles.
The size up front, along with the skill set in the backfield, should allow the flexbone option attack of Allelo to blossom, perhaps not as fully as it did in 2013 but to the degree that the Warriors must have to improve upon last season’s win total.
“I love the fact that we return 13 kids, nine of whom started every game while the other four started at some capacity,” Allelo said. “You cannot buy that. My entire line and backfield are back. Each of our receivers have started a game. We have no excuses on offense with the experience we have. They have taken their lumps, got experience, got in the weight room and they are ready to blossom. They are a good group to work with.”
The 4-2-5 defense returns six starters, including a star at end in senior Darius Harry (6-3, 210). Senior tackle Ahmad Alphonse (5-9, 215) is also back in the fold while the new starters include senior D’Anthony Nash (6-2, 180) at end and sophomore PJ Neal (5-8, 200) at tackle. The linebackers are new, including junior Allen Staggers (6-1, 205) and Ahmad Harris (5-10, 170).
The strength of the defense is the secondary, where four starters return.
Senior corners Kai Gilbert (6-0, 170) and Derek Marshall (5-11, 180) are solid while strong safeties Kendo Williams (5-10, 175 Jr.) and Ethan Hannah (5’9, 165 Sr.) are back as well. The new starter is senior Eric Gregory (6-0, 170).
“We lost Quavonte Brooks and Roman Edwards off of last year’s defense but we’re probably faster overall,” Allelo said. “We are not as big as we would like to be but we can run to the football, much like a certain defense we had in 2013. We have done nothing to draw comparisons to that bunch but the speed aspect on defense is similar.”
Allelo was specific about the speed of certain players.
“Marshall is a three-year starter and can really run,” Allelo said. “Gilbert is a senior who can run. Gregory has been in the program and is ready to find his niche at free safety. We should cover well. Nash is growing physically and as a player as well. He is a track guy who is growing into his body. Harry has length and experience. We are little undersized in the middle but we are quick.”
Punter Jesse Lacassio was an all-district performer a year ago while Manuel Nieto is the kicker.
The schedule is a bit unusual, opening with a former District 8-5A opponent in Helen Cox at Hoss Memtsas Stadium on Aug. 31 before the Warriors host a vastly improved Lakeshore squad at Joe Yenni Stadium on Sept. 8. East Jeff travels to Division III power Newman in week three before facing an enormous challenge at Behrman stadium against defending Class 5A state champion Landry-Walker in district play on Sept. 22.
The great rivalry game is renewed when the Warriors battle Bonnabel on Sept. 29. The Warriors have four of their final five games at home, hosting Grace King in a week six matchup, entertaining Chalmette on Oct. 13 and John Ehret Oct. 19. After facing Higgins at Hoss Memtsas Stadium, the Warriors close the regular season at home against West Jefferson.
“Very few teams are like us in our district,” Allelo said. “Most of the teams on our schedule line up in shotgun. Hopefully, that works out for us. We still wanted to play Helen Cox, even though they dropped to 4A. Lakeshore is week two. We used to scrimmage them and used to be in a district with them. They are really improved. Newman is good and well coached. Nelson Stewart and I are great friends. I have a world of respect for him.”
Allelo knows 8-5A will be a difficult league.
“We open district play with Landry-Walker,” Allelo said. “They lost quality players but have a host of excellent players back. We know how good they are. Bonnabel is a big rivalry game. Grace King will play hard. Chalmette is always good under Jason Tucker, a quality program. Ehret, even changing coaches, is likely the district favorite. They handled us last year. We hit the road to play Higgins and Kenny Bush is a friend and good coach. We finish with West Jeff, like it was in the old days with the rivalry.”
With size, more experience and a clear focus in coaching and in the running game, expect East Jefferson to control time of possession frequently and at season’s end, to possess more than the three wins of a year ago.
“Teams have a hard time simulating what we do,” Allelo said. “If we execute well, we can present problems for virtually anyone. We have to make it an advantage. This team is better than the last two teams we’ve had. Our internal expectations are high. We have a spot we believe we can achieve. That’s what we are shooting for. I believe we can compete well in our league if we play to our ability and stay healthy.”
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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, CCSE CEO Ken Trahan has been a sports media fixture in the community for nearly four decades. Ken started NewOrleans.com/Sports with Bill Hammack and Don Jones in 2008. In 2011, the site became SportsNOLA.com. On August 1, 2017, Ken helped launch CrescentCitySports.com. Having accumulated national awards/recognition (National Sports Media Association, National Football…