Good skill position talent gives Rummel good chance to contend again in 2017
There is a tendency to take excellence for granted.
At Archbishop Rummel, the same old, same old axiom applies annually to the football program.
Jay Roth has presided over the Raiders for 22 seasons and his 23rd should be more of the same—winning.
The question is whether or not Rummel will win big in 2017. It is a good, valid question with the potential for a positive answer running high.
Roth has won 213 games in 22 seasons, winning right at 80 percent of his games at the highest level of competition in a very tough league. That, in itself, is extremely impressive.
The Raiders have won a pair of state championships and reached two other title games since 2009 while being the dominant team in the storied Catholic League since 1999, winning or sharing 12 of the last 18 championships.
“No one on our current team has won a state championship but they know about the tradition,” Roth said. “They understand the program’s success. It has been passed down. They understand there high expectations and they want to live up to them.”
That was not the case a year ago.
Powerhouse John Curtis Christian joined the league in 2015 and Rummel still dominated, beating the Patriots twice en route to a district championship and 9-5A title. In 2016, the Patriots turned the table, dominating the league while beating the Raiders twice, including in the Division I quarterfinals. Most people feel the sequel is set for 2017, with Curtis and Rummel looking like the two best teams in the league. Can you say rubber match?
There is good reason for optimism at Rummel, thanks to an experienced, outstanding skill set on offense.
Junior quarterback Chandler Fields (5-11, 180) arrives from Holy Cross to put punch back in the offense. Rummel was blessed with Damian Williams and Chase Fourcade for seven consecutive years and the lack of a mobile quarterback who could make accurate short to intermediate throws perhaps prevented the Raiders from continuing their dominance a year ago. Fields checks both boxes.
A year ago, Fields missed five games due to injury and was never 100 percent at Holy Cross. When healthy as a freshman in 2015, Fields passed for 18 touchdowns and ran for two scores.
At Rummel, he will have a superb supporting cast, including four senior wide receivers who are outstanding, led by Florida commit Ja’Marr Chase (6-1, 195). A year ago, Chase caught 28 passes for 714 yards and 12 touchdowns and he returned a kickoff for a score. Two-sport star Evan Francioni (6-0, 186) caught 17 passes for 237 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Speedster Jermie Walker (6-0, 160) caught 14 passes for 151 yards and a score and Cole Young (5-10, 170) had 12 catches for 204 yards and a score. Sophomore Koy Moore (5-11, 170) is a superb athlete who will make his mark as well.
“It’s potentially a really good group of players,” Roth said. “We’re not a tailback, fullback or tight end featured team like we have been. We have returning starters at all of our skill spots and that is our strength, on the perimeter and in the backfield. It doesn’t guarantee success. You have to go out and earn it.”
A former quarterback at Rummel, Roth appreciates his new quarterback.
“Fields brings solid, quiet leadership to the offense,” Roth said. “The kids know he can run an offense, take care of the ball and get it in the hands of the right people. His work ethic is contagious. He is very coachable, a good teammate. We had Cyril Grayson, Stephen Dunbar and David Hensley. Ja’Marr has a chance to exceed all of them.”
With the skill on hand, expectations are that the traditional physical, smash-mouth style of offense for Roth will become a more shotgun, spread oriented attack. The likelihood is likely somewhere in between.
All three running backs return as well, including seniors Keirell Jackson (5-6, 198) and Dwan Trufant (5-10, 190). Jackson rushed for 688 yards and five touchdowns while Trufant rushed for 476 yards and five touchdowns. Talented sophomore Jaelen Sturgis (5-10, 215) returns from a broken ankle, which cut his 2016 season short.
Sophomore tight end Jackson Dennies (6-3, 220) is a good two-sport athlete coming off of a very good freshman season in baseball while senior Cade Guillory (5-10, 195) will play fullback and tight end as well.
The question for the Raiders on offense is up front. Perhaps the biggest addition is new offensive line coach Graham Jarrott, who arrives with an outstanding record and reputation from Jesuit. He also coached at Brother Martin and De La Salle, previously.
Only senior Casey Manning (5-10, 235) returns and is expected to start at left tackle. Guard Ronald Ross was expected to be the best lineman but he injured his knee at an offseason camp at Colorado State. The hope is that Ross can return sometime in district play. Junior Zach Smith (6-0, 270) will play right tackle, the guards are senior Evan Couget (5-11, 250) and sophomore Anthony Harrison (6-0, 305) and the center is senior James Johnson (5-9, 230). Junior Evan Bairnsfather (5-10, 220) will see action as well.
“Graham brings valuable coaching experience, including 10 years in the Catholic League,” Roth said. “You trust him to coach the kids. He’s dealing with guys who lack experience and that is important. We will need to mature quickly up front if we want to achieve our goals. We hope to get Ross back, at some point.”
The Raiders return six players who started games on defense a year ago.
Up front, senior end Jacob Fury (6-0, 230) returns after recording 68 tackles last season. Senior tackle Glen Thurmond (5-11, 250) returns as well and will be joined at tackle by senior Aaron Espanan (6-0, 280). Sophomore Jordan Williams (5-11, 215) mans the other end spot.
After an injury-plagued junior season, senior Shane Brotherton (5-11, 200) returns to anchor the mid-level at middle linebacker. Brotherton was outstanding as a sophomore for Nick Monica’s defense. The outside linebackers are new, including junior Mason Celestin (5-9, 195) and sophomore Quinton Cage (5-9, 175), who have to replace the brilliant duo of Derrick Munson and Shahid Reece. Munson is now at Arkansas while Reece is at Ball State.
“Fury and Thurmond will be counted on heavily,” Roth said. “Both play hard and play well. Shane needs to return to his form of two years ago.”
The secondary is solid, led by Division I prospect and senior Aaron Brule’ (6-2, 205), who will roam and play like a rover frequently. Junior Ron Franklin (6-0, 170) will play the other safety spot after a fine baseball season for the Raiders. The corners both played a year ago in seniors Eric Piedy (5-11, 170) and senior Caleb Powell (5-6, 150). Powell had two interceptions a year ago while Piedy was in on 42 tackles.
“Brule’ is a leader who makes plays,” Roth said. Piedy and Powell both played for us last year. Franklin is a good athlete whom we expect to play well for us.”
Senior Chris “Juice” Freibert is a solid kicker and punter while Rummel should have a lethal return game with Chase, Moore and Francioni.
As always, the schedule will be tough. The Raiders open with a pair of out-of-state opponents, one at home and one on the road. At home, Rummel faces athletic Gulfport, MS on Sept. 2 at Joe Yenni Stadium to open the season before traveling to Pensacola, FL to take on Escambia.
“My whole reason for playing the out-of-state teams is because of the split,” Roth said. “There are only so many private schools we can play in Louisiana. We do it just to get games. None of the public schools who voted to remain together had matching schedules, unfortunately. We would prefer playing closer to home.”
The next two weeks present serious in-state challenges. On Sept. 16, the Raiders host defending Division III state champion Riverside before traveling to Lafayette to take on Division II power Teurlings Catholic.
“Those two games will be neat,” Roth. “Chris Lachney is a former Catholic League coach and a very good one. They play at a high level across the board. It should be a hard hitting, intense meeting. Teurlings is a great venue to play at and they have a new head coach. We know it will be a challenge against a good team in a good environment.”
Catholic League play opens on Sept. 30 as the Raiders host Archbishop Shaw in the annual Megaphone game as part of the Archbishop Hannan Classic. Week six has the Raiders facing Holy Cross at Tad Gormley Stadium with the quarterback subplot of Fields facing his former team while Tigers quarterback Jaden Moran goes against his former team.
Week seven has the Raiders battling Jesuit, most likely at Tulane’s Yulman Stadium, on Oct. 13. Then comes a battle with Brother Martin at Joe Yenni Stadium before the Raiders have another showdown with John Curtis at The Shrine on Airline on Oct. 27. The regular season concludes against St. Augustine on Nov. 3.
A year ago, both Brother Martin and St. Augustine defeated Rummel. While both will contend and be solid this season, the Raiders appear to be the primary challenger to a repeat by John Curtis. On a statewide basis, Rummel and Curtis both appear to be chasing defending Division I state champion Evangel Christian, who is loaded.
“This will be the third year we’ve had this schedule,” Roth said. “Normally, we draw when we play district teams. We again play the three teams perceived to be the toughest teams to play in the final three weeks. We started 6-0 last year and did not handle adversity well. We had leads against Brother Martin and John Curtis and did not hold them. It was not a good ending. It did not sit well in the offseason and it is motivating to us. Curtis has to be considered the team to beat.”
Still, Rummel should contend both for 9-5A honors and state honors, as we have come to expect from Roth’s teams. How far they go with their fine skill contingent of players could largely be determined by how quickly the offensive line progresses.
“We feel pretty good about the rest of our team but we really need our guys up front to play well,” Roth said. “We don’t have the size or experience we are accustomed to having there but we like their ability to improve.”
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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, CCSE Owner and 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 Football Foundation, College…