Faith, football fortunes led Lester Ricard to Walker High
When it comes to Walker High School, both the campus and the football team, everything seems to be on the uptick.
When seeing all of the construction and renovations on the physical plant and athletic facilities, there are two ways a potential coaching candidate can look at it. One is to keep driving away, looking for a ready-made situation. Luckily for Walker principal Jason St. Pierre and the young men on the football team, Lester Ricard Jr. decided to be part of all the changes in progress at the Livingston Parish school.
Let’s rewind to late December where St. Pierre and former head football coach Brandon Lawley had decided to part ways. All Lawley did was take a perennial loser to the Class 5A playoffs in just two short years at the helm. Not only did the Wildcats make the 2016 postseason, but they had won their first two District 4-5A games in the program’s history. A record of 7-4, improved from the 5-5 mark in 2015, indicated the Walker Wildcats are going in the right direction since moving up to the state’s highest classification.
Now enters Ricard, the former Amite, LSU and Tulane quarterback who also was a finalist for the Denham Springs job that went to former St. Stanislaus coach Bill Conides. When Ricard drove up and saw the upgraded football stadium and fieldhouse at Walker plus the steel being erected for the new school campus, the coach had a feeling come over him that this is the place he needed to be. His parents live in Central, and his father Lester Sr. has a ministry in the Baton Rouge area. The son can now be near his parents and the ministry.
As Ricard went inside to talk to St. Pierre, their first hour of the two hour interview included a connection thanks to the deep religious faith held by both. Afterwards, Ricard knew Walker was the place for him.
“Obviously I prayed that I can be closer to my family, and I wanted to apply for the right job, not just any job,” Ricard recalled. “I am here for the young talented kids, and this feels purposeful to me because faith has allowed me to have this opportunity.”
Ricard’s former boss, Hahnville head coach Nick Saltaformaggio, identified the attributes which can lead to Lester to success as a head coach.
“He is very much a players coach,” said Saltaformaggio. “He always tries to put his players in good positions in both life and football.”
Ricard’s impression of Jason St. Pierre, a man I know all too well since my son Brendan is a student at the school, is one of mirror image to himself.
“St Pierre is a faith-based man like myself, and are we are similar in what we envision for the direction of the program.”
Ricard added. “I want to continue what Lawley was able to accomplish, and we have the opportunity to have a very good football team this year.”
His entire coaching staff includes newcomers to the program as well. Marcus Brown (defensive backs) and Lew Immons (linebackers) serve as the co-Defensive Coordinators. Other coaches on that side of the ball are Kenny Sibley, Steve Johnson and Demitri Gardner. Cecil Thomas is the Walker Strength and Conditioning Coordinator who also coaches the offensive line.
Mike Janis (receivers), Curtis Dawson (runinng backs) and Byron Valisiauskas (receivers/Head Freshman Coach) with work closely with Ricard, who also serves as his own offensive coordinator.
Ricard has to find a way to replace a talented quarterback, Jacobi Scott, as well as key offensive lineman Martin Brooks and defensive end Noah Cox.
Ethan McMasters tops the depth chart at quarterback while the rest of the first string offense includes Garrett Emmonds (LT), Taylor Granger (RT), Alex Brady (OC), Tim Lawson (RT), Bryce Pace (RG), Triston Taylor (RB), Dylan DeLee (FB), Darius Hampton (WR), Trent Montgomery (WR) and Jalen Cook (WR).
Hampton is the top returnee at wide receiver with 34 catches, 984 yards and 11 touchdowns last season.
Defensively, Walker brings back an experience secondary. The linebacking corps is a group Ricard feels rates among the best group trio in the state. Avery Smith on the strongside, Josh Cook in the middle and Keondre Vintras at weakside comprise a solid unit.
Defensive end Cade Seymore who will anchor the line along with fellow starters Johnny Levi at end along with tackle Jerome Wilson and nose guard Johnny Morse.
Yet, Ricard identified the starting secondary – BJ Lockhart (SS), Calvin Watson (FS), Quaeshon Clark (CB) and TJ Briley (CB) – as the backbone of the Wildcat defense.
The special teams include kicker Bradley Cain, punter Taylor Granger and returner Darius Hampton.
Wherever the Walker Wildcats wind up in the District 4-5A standings in 2017, one thing is certain. Faith in many forms will not be lacking
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Johnny Marchese is a lifelong resident of Southeast Louisiana, born in New Orleans and raised in Terrytown. Johnny is a 1981 graduate of West Jefferson High School, then after a one year volunteer stint at WWOZ 90.7 FM in New Orleans. He enlisted in the United States Marine Corps and served as a field radio operator. Upon returning from a…