Jones, Hammond High look to take next step in rebuilding process
It has been quite some time since Hammond football has been relevant and a threat in its district and in its classification.
The Tornadoes have endured very tough times of late, going 3-37 in their last four seasons, including a 1-9 mark under first-year head coach Steve Jones in 2017. The last non-losing season was a 5-5 mark in 2010. The last winning season for Hammond was in 2004.
Entering his second season, Jones is optimistic that things will improve in 2018.
Jones knows how to win.
As a head coach in Mississippi at Biloxi High, Ocean Springs and Harrison Central, he posted an impressive mark of 146-80 in 22 years.
“Hammond always had a tradition of individually talented athletes, even guys who have been in the NFL,” Jones said. “The biggest thing is changing the culture, getting kids to commit year-round, to attend practice every day. Most of our kids are from tougher backgrounds. Our location is not easy to draw to. Everyone has challenges. We have things to overcome. We have about 65 kids in the program right now.”
There is some reason for optimism.
Offensively, the Tornadoes return sophomore quarterback Ryan Roberts (6-0, 180), along with senior running back Edward Ratcliff (5-9, 215), senior wingback Marnell Davis (5-9, 155) and tight end Dallas McAlister (6-1, 225). Senior Kevin Primus (6-0, 170) is a very good athlete capable of making plays wherever he lines up.
“We have had a very good summer with 7-on-7 competition,” Jones said. “Roberts is a coach’s son who understands the game. He started games as a true freshman so his game experience will really help this year. He doesn’t get rattled. I’ve seen senior quarterbacks get rattled and he does not. He internalizes things quite well. We feel we can grow with him. Ratliff is a good running back with size and toughness.”
Hammond must replace its entire offensive line but there is reason to believe it will improve.
“We have faster, better athletes up front this year which will make us better,” Jones said. “Kevin Primus will make an offensive line better. He took snaps at quarterback last year. We can line him up at receiver and in the backfield and he can make plays for us.”
The defense should be a strong point, featuring many, if not all of the team’s best returning players.
“We feel our defense will be our strength with the experience we have returning,” Jones said. “Our secondary is quite good.”
That includes a Division I prospect in senior safety Tyrone Lewis (6-0, 187), who leads a very talented secondary which will also include returning starters in senior Jarod Poole (6-0, 195) and Arthur Ashton (5-9, 165).
“Lewis is an outstanding athlete who has as many as 20 offers already,” Jones said. “He has a chance to be special.”
Up front, senior defensive ends Trent May (6-1, 215) and Howard Watkins (6-1, 255) are solid while on the inside, junior Larry Stewart (6-3, 270) and senior Tyrik Mitchell (5-10, 275) are good as well.
Senior Floyd Green (6-0, 210) leads a capable group of linebackers.
The season opens at Strawberry Stadium against Denham Springs on Aug. 31 before a trip to Baton Rouge to take on Woodlawn. The final pre-district game is at home against Salmen on Sept. 14.
“Last year, we lost close games to Woodlawn and Salmen,” Jones said. “We could have won those games. Our loss to Denham Springs was closer than the final score indicated. We feel we will compete better with them all this year. If we can get off to a good start, I really feel we can have a good season.”
District 6-5A play opens at home against a very good Slidell squad on Sept. 28 before the Tornadoes travel to St. Paul’s. Hammond will host Fontainebleau on Oct. 4. Road trips to Northshore and Mandeville follow. The final home game is Oct. 26 against Covington and the regular season finale is Nov. 2 at Ponchatoula.
“Quite a few teams in the league lost quite a few folks,” Jones said. “Our junior varsity was unbeaten a year ago. Slidell was the only team that scored on us. We lost a couple to grades but we have most back with us. With the skill we have, we feel we can compete much better this year. Slidell has perhaps the most players back and they will be good. Mandeville will be a little better. The others are always very good. It will be a balanced league, for certain.”
Jones is confident that his team will improve.
“We have a lot more team speed overall this year which should definitely help us,” Jones said. “We believe we will be improved this year. We will count on some players to play on both sides of the ball for us.”
With a host of good players returning, expectations are that a proven winning coach can improve upon the victory total of last year as the rebuilding process continues for the Tornadoes.
“It should be a fun season,” Jones said.
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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, CCSE 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 Sports Media Association, National Football…