Elpheage leads John F. Kennedy to special football season

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Lynarise Elphaege Sr.

Lynaris Elpheage, Sr. showed up at John F. Kennedy High School in New Orleans in 2020, excited about his first head coaching position.

His excitement was dampened immediately when he was greeted by a football squad unable to provide a depth chart. The Cougars had just eight players.

“I just had faith. It was the Covid year and we had to find kids,” said Elpheage. “They weren’t in the building, they were on line, so we just started calling teachers asking if they knew any former players. We got a few to come out and we ended up with 23 guys.”

Now in the midst of his third season at the helm, Elpheage has directed the Cougars to a gaudy 9-1 record, the championship of District 9-3A and a Division II Select Playoffs first-round bye. Kennedy will face Archbishop Hannan in the regional round.

One of the best prep players to come out of New Orleans during the last 25 years, Elpheage says the players bought into his vision. That’s become a coach-speak cliché; however, it carries special meaning for his Cougars.

“Working hard, being a hard nose team and doing the little things right. Not taking anything for granted. Now they see the pay off and they can see the rewards, the recognition,” Elpheage explained. “They’re in the playoffs with a first-round bye and all those things are coming together because of hard work.”

It was a dominating regular season for Kennedy. They waltzed through the district schedule unblemished, outscoring the competition 263 to 6.

For the season, Kennedy averaged 41 points a contest. Senior quarterback Christopher Armstrong tossed a state-leading 40 touchdown passes with only five interceptions.

Chris Armstrong

Armstrong’s coach was an outstanding prep quarterback more than 20 years ago at Carver High in New Orleans. Elpheage is proud of his signal caller’s progress.

“Last year was his first year in the system so he was taking his lumps. He is now a student of the game and he has been phenomenal,” Elpheage raved. “He has taken leadership of the team and he has the confidence needed that you have to have as a quarterback.”

Armstrong, who has completed 65 percent of his passes this season, says everything he knows about playing quarterback he learned from his coach.

“When I came to Kennedy I didn’t know how to throw an out pattern,” Armstrong said. “He’s taught me how to read defenses and I trust the plays and I just have more confidence in myself.”

Defensively, JFK has surrendered a mere seven points a game. The leader of the unit is 6-foot-3, 240-pound defensive end Dashaun Batiste, a Troy University commit who Lee Brecheen of Louisiana Football Magazine calls the best pass rusher in the state. His head coach is more lavish with his praise.

“I think he’s the best defensive player in the state,” Elpheage said. “Deshaun is a monster. He doesn’t say much but he’s a quiet assassin. When he gets on the field, he is a totally different person.”

Off the field, Batiste is the quintessential student-athlete. He was voted Mr. JFK, and he currently has his sights set on being class valedictorian.

A member of the Tulane Hall of Fame as a defensive back and punt returner, Elpheage, who was MVP of the Hawai’I Bowl in 2002, made his mark at the high school level as a mercurial two-way quarterback. That was more than two decades ago but Batiste says they still see his athletic abilities first-hand on a daily basis.

“When Coach gets behind the center it’s a touchdown on every play,” Batiste said. “He picks our defense apart at practice. He’s like Houdini.”

If there is anything magical about Elpheage during this exceptional season, he credits two important coaching influences for the foundation of it. He draws much of his inspiration from his coaches at Carver High School, the late Wayne Reese and Jack Phillips.

“They were father-figures,” Elpheage said. “They refused to take no for an answer. We had to do it right and do it right all the time. And they showed us love…they genuinely cared about us. It was tough love and what it means to prepare. I’d do anything for them because they loved and cared about us. It’s easy to play for a coach who really cares”

Obviously, Lynarise Elpheage is passing it on.

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