Haynes steps up in class looking to build on recent football success

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Haynes vs. S. Plaquemines football 2016
(Photo: Stephen Lew)

When you are the head football coach at a school noted for its academics as opposed to athletics, expectations can be measured.

At Haynes Academy, head football coach Paul Longo has raised the bar, posting two winning seasons and playoff appearances in succession.

It is a good news, bad news scenario for Longo and his Yellowjackets.

The good news is the impressive 15-5 record his teams have posted over his two year tenure. The bad news is being part of the brutal Division III playoff picture.

In successive years, Haynes has drawn traditional powers Ouachita Christian and Notre Dame and bowed out in convincing fashion in the opening round. Still, that does not dampen the success that Longo has fostered at the Metairie school.

“I think each year was a better situation, you learn from everything,” Longo said. “We had successful seasons and faced two very good teams in the playoffs. It was a learning experience, a great experience for the kids to learn in very good football environments.”

Haynes was 8-3 a year ago and went 4-1 in District 10-3A. Unfortunately, the Yellowjackets graduated 23 seniors so it will be tough to repeat the success with a very young team. Couple that with the step up to Division II and an incredibly loaded district and the task gets even more difficult this year.

“Now that we are in Division II, we are in with quality teams again,” Longo said. “We are going to be young this year. It will be reps on the field and at practice that will help us improve. We have to progress on a daily basis but we are excited about the process.”

The Yellowjackets return just five starters.

Junior Gavin Burns (5-7, 145) is a solid running back and defensive back. Sophomore Josh Christoffersen (6-1, 185) will double as a tight end and defensive end as will senior Darnell Johnson (6-4, 195) Junior Thomas Gaffney (6-0, 170) will play wide receiver and defensive back. Sophomore Paul Longo (5-10, 175) is set to play fullback and linebacker. Johnson is perhaps the best of the bunch.

“We have two back on defense in Johnson and Paul (Longo),” Longo said. “We expect good things from them. Darnell played inside linebacker. They should be solid and should provide leadership for us. Offensively, we have Gavin back which will help. It’s all about getting repetitions.”

Sophomore Zachary Bott is set to play quarterback and will double as a defensive back. The offensive line features juniors Jefferey Lin and David Bech, sophomore Jackson Vogel and a pair of freshmen in Robert Westerfield and Rylee Westerfield.

Defensively, senior Andrew Ruiz will play in the secondary and double as a wide receiver, as will senior Ben Kirk. Junior Hassan Al Hassani will start on the defensive line and perhaps see some time on the offensive front, as will juniors Zach Toups, Jacob Edwards and Brian Weindel.

“I don’t know that we have a one strong area right now,” Longo said. “I do think we will run the ball pretty well and we will improve in other areas week to week but running it well would be our strength going into the season.”

The schedule opens with The Magnet Bowl against West Bank rival Thomas Jefferson on Aug. 31 at 6:30 p.m. at Joe Yenni Stadium before the Yellowjackets take on Riverdale at Yenni on Sept. 7 and host Ben Franklin on Sept. 14. The first road trip is to Fisher on Sept. 22 before Haynes travels to Pearl River in week five.

“Thomas Jefferson will be very good, Riverdale is much improved,” Longo said. “We played Pearl River and snuck out a one-point win last year. Ben Franklin is a like institution. Fisher is a road trip. None of these games will be easy. We will have to earn everything we get.”

Then comes the juggernaut as the Yellowjackets open district play against powerful De La Salle on Oct. 6 at Pan American Stadium before making the trip to take on powerful St. James. The brutal stretch concludes with a home game against St. Charles Catholic on Oct. 20. The Comets are loaded and played for the Division III state championship a year ago. District play concludes at Donaldsonville on Oct. 27 before the regular season ends against Lusher at Brees Family Field on Nov. 3.

“We have the three hammers lined up in a row,” Longo said. “We know we will be in tough. We think it is a really good district and will prepare us well for the playoffs.”

With only 16 teams in the division, the numbers are small but the opponents, their size and their ability is a large mountain to climb for Haynes. It will take a good start for the Yellowjackets to build momentum before the enormous district challenge begins.

“I feel we have to get off to a good start, huge,” Longo said. “We have to play good football early. We have to make adjustments and corrections now to be ready for week one. We feel we have to get off to a good start and feel we can do so.”

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