Football Preview: Rummel turns to added youth to continue as elite program

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Nicholas Howard
Rummel wide receiver Nicholas Howard will be counted upon to be a top contributor for the Raiders in 2021 (Photo: Bill Arthurs).

Since Jay Roth took over the football program at his alma mater in 1995, Archbishop Rummel has consistently been one of the top 10 programs in Louisiana.

Since 2009, Rummel has consistently been one of the elite programs in Louisiana.

Over the last 12 years, the Raiders have won three state championships and have reached the state championship game five times.

Roth guided Rummel to consecutive state championships in 2012 and 2013.

When Roth retired to become athletic director in 2019, top assistant Nick Monica took over.

The Raiders did not miss a beat.

In his first season, Monica did a fabulous job, leading Rummel to an unbeaten record and the 2019 state championship in Division I.

Last season, the Raiders were playing terrific football by the end of the season and were primed for a huge run in the Division I playoffs.

A slew of injuries to key players proved to be too much of an obstacle to overcome as eventual state champion Catholic of Baton Rouge rallied late to overcome the Raiders 42-35 in the quarterfinals in what may have been a matchup of the two best teams in the class at that point of the season.

Gone are Logan Diggs (Notre Dame), Kyle Wickersham (Richmond), linebacker Kolbe Fields (Memphis) and defensive end Caboz Craig (Nicholls). The same is true of top offensive lineman Chase Tollin.

Entering his third year, Monica faces the biggest challenge of his young head coaching career.

“This is the youngest team in terms of experience that I have coached in my third year on the job,” Monica said. “We will play a lot of young guys, including several freshmen. We are little thinner than normal in our upper classes in terms of overall talent.”

Offensively, junior Casey Avrard steps into the void to replace Wickersham, a two-year starter. The 6-foot, 175-pound Avrard is a solid athlete with a good arm.

“Casey has really good arm strength,” Monica said. “He is a solid athlete as well. It is simply a matter of gaining experience. He is learning that there is more to the position than just throwing the football. He is a great student (4.0 GPA), very intelligent. We are just trying to get him to take control of the offense a little more .”

Ahmad Garner (5-9, 180) saw some time in reserve at running back a year ago and the junior will be called upon to do more this season. Jaidyn Martin, a Sophomore with promise, will factor in the running attack as well.

“Ahmad will be the primary guy but we have three or four others who are young who will get carries,” Monica said. “We really like the group and its future.”

Nicholas Howard (6-3, 171) is back at wide receiver after a very good junior season a year ago. Howard had 28 catches for 341 yards and seven touchdowns last season.

Cameron Francioni (5-9, 160), another senior wideout, also returns after catching nine passes for 120 yards and two scores last season.

There is a talented tight end returning as well in senior Tyronne Hayes (6-2, 207), who had 17 catches for 274 yards and two touchdowns in 2020.

“I think the receiver spot needs to be the strength of our team,” Monica said. “Howard is our best college prospect. Francioni is experienced and Tyronne has flexibility and can do a lot for you. It is a very good group.”

Up front, seniors Christian Stamps (6-0, 320) and Davell Dixon (6-2, 249) return to anchor the offensive line while senior Nick Gallioto (5-10, 250) saw significant playing time last season and is back.

“We need to come together a little more but the offensive line needs to be a strong point of this team with a new quarterback and running back,” Monica said. “Gallioto could play center but he can also start at guard or tackle.”

The defense was without senior Marlon Baker (6-2, 271), who missed last season after breaking his leg in a preseason scrimmage. Unfortunately, Baker has suffered another broken bone in the same leg this offseason and his recovery time is uncertain, although he hopes to return at some time during the season.

Caleb Whins (5-9, 255) is back after getting some playing time in 2020 as a sophomore while senior Anquan Milton (5-10, 210) also started games last season.

“Whins played more in the latter part of last year,” Monica said. “We expect him to be a big contributor. Milton started some games last year. We have younger players who will have to step up.”

The linebackers are new, including senior Grant Stevens (5-9, 175) while freshman Calvin Sparrow is expected to start and has a nice future.

“Linebacker will be a spot where we are not certain yet about who our primary players will be, outside of Stevens,” Monica said.

The secondary will have new starters as well.

Ashton Stamps (5-11, 165), a junior, saw playing time and had an interception last season.

“Stamps has enjoyed a really good offseason,” Monica said. “We expect big things from him. The rest of the secondary is all brand new.”

The new group of defensive backs set for plenty of snaps includes senior Darnell Alexander (5-8, 166) and juniors Toby Donegan and Yamil Perrier (5-8, 165), along with sophomores Chance Joseph and Darrius Davis.

The schedule is very challenging, opening with traditional Division II power University High before a long trip to play a tough, physical Ruston squad. Another trip to Slidell follows before the Raiders host defending Division IV state champion Calvary Baptist.

“We start with teams used to playing deep into the postseason in U-High and Ruston,” Monica said. “We are going to lean heavily on our lines on both sides of the ball. We will have to grow up quickly to face those teams. Calvary played us toe-to-toe last year. We had the best player on the field when we won there last year in Logan Diggs. They have a ton of talent back and could be better than last year. Slidell is solid as well.”

Catholic League play opens Oct. 2 at Joe Yenni Stadium against improved Archbishop Shaw in the Megaphone game, which was not played last year.

The Raiders then host Brother Martin before playing a pair of games at Yulman Stadium against Holy Cross and St. Augustine. After playing John Curtis Christian on Oct. 30, the Raiders close at Tad Gormley Stadium against Jesuit on Nov. 5.

“I don’t think there is one team that jumps out,” Monica said. “Most years, it runs through John Curtis and they have an outstanding quarterback returning. They will be good. It will be very competitive. You must show up every week or you will get beat. It will be a typical Catholic League.”

With a new quarterback, running back and back end of its defense, there may be a few growing pains for the always tough Raiders but there is talent and the high expectation of winning at Rummel that should carry the Raiders to compete well.

“We are going to play a lot of younger players but that does not mean we are playing for the future,” Monica said. “We will play the early part of our season finding out about ourselves. Once we figure ourselves out, by the time we get to district, hopefully we will be better to compete at a higher level. By the time you get to the postseason, no one is young, anymore. We are hoping to get better by the end of the year.”

Based on a long track record of outstanding results, do not count out an inexperienced Raider team with young talent from blossoming into a contender by the playoffs.

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