Riverside Rebels ready, able to defend state title
They were not going to be denied a second time.
After earning the top-seed and losing to Notre Dame (13-3) in the Division III state championship game in 2015, Riverside earned the top-seed again in 2016 and finished what they started, routing district and St. John Parish rival St. Charles Catholic 47-20 to capture the state title.
Known previously as a basketball dynasty and having just won a state championship in baseball, those programs can move over. Riverside is a football power as well.
Bill Stubbs, one of the best coaches in Louisiana prep football history, opted to retire following the state championship, his fourth as a head coach, including three at Salmen.
Fortunately, Stubbs prepared Riverside very well for the future. One of his first moves open taking over the program in 2011 was to bring in Chris Lachney as his defensive coordinator. Enormously respected among his peers, Lachney was being groomed to take over for Stubbs. He is more than ready to do so as he takes the reins in 2017.
“I think Bill had it in mind for me to take over before I did,” Lachney said. “I was just tickled to death to get the opportunity to come work for somebody like him and learn under him and where it led down the road was secondary to the moment that I was able to be in at the time with an excellent program. I guess it was part of the master plan but it wasn’t at the forefront of the process.”
While Lachney is an excellent coach, it always helps to have excellent players with experience. Riverside is loaded with plenty of those this season. In all, 11 players return who played big roles as starters in 2016.
It begins at quarterback with senior Jordan Loving (6-3, 212), a Northwestern State commitment who has a slew of gifted, long athletes returning at wide receiver in seniors Jalen Banks (6-2, 175), Kash Foley (5-11, 180) and Jeremiah Bigham (6-3, 184).
The Rebels have a bull returning at running back in senior Jeremy Gibson (5-10, 202) while up front, senior Mason Scioneaux (5-10, 265) is the lone returning starter.
“It is a great group of skill players,” Lachney said. “We are extremely blessed to have the offensive talent we have. They had pretty big roles on last year’s team, contributing in a lot of ways to our success. It’s step one to win to have players like that. Jordan has grown so much since we had to put him in as a freshman. For the past three years, I’ve had to defend him in practice. I’ve seen him just progress as a quarterback in his command and understanding of what is going on behind him, along with his arm talent. He frequently amazes us at practice.”
Defensively, there is toughness returning up front in senior Leboe Bridges (6-1, 247) and massive junior Wilbert Robertson (6-0, 357). Senior Jared Hymel (6-0, 209) returns to anchor the linebacker spot while in the secondary, seniors Garland Robertson (6-0, 160) and Zack Gieger (5-11, 175) are back.
“We have some talented players returning on defense on all three levels,” Lachney said. “We have to fill holes in the linebacking corps. We are at a place to find replacements for the toughness, attitude and culture we have had the last couple of years. We’ve graduated some really program-type kids on defense like Evan Veron, Harrison Heckathorn, Freddie Means, Trey Catoire and others. We’re on our way to doing it but it is a work in progress.”
The schedule, for lack of a better word, is brutal. Such is the case when you are an elite program, one of the very best in Louisiana in any classification. Finding anyone to play you is very tough, as only the other elite programs are most apt to do so, such as John Ehret did in escaping with a pair of very close victories over the Rebels in 2015 and 2016.
While Ehret is off the slate in 2017, those facing Riverside in non-district play present tremendous challenges.
They include two-time defending Division IV state champion Southern Lab as the Kittens invade Reserve to open the season on Sept. 1. Southern Lab has played in the last three Division IV state championship games. Week two has 5A power Barbe traveling to Mickey Roussel Stadium to take on the Rebels.
Week three finds the Rebels traveling to Metairie to take on Division I power Archbishop Rummel on Sept. 16 at Joe Yenni Stadium before Riverside has a much needed open date. It does not get any easier as the Rebels entertain Division II power De La Salle on Sept. 29 in the final non-district contest.
“We look at scheduling at from two different standpoints, looking at power-points and trying to play teams that challenge our team in a specific way, like when we faced Parkview Baptist, a physical team, recently. This year, Southern Lab is extremely talented, ultra-athletic. Barbe has a lot shifting and motion like Matt Canada at LSU. Rummel is in your face. I know they will open it up but they will play smash-mouth. De La Salle has a bunch of college prospects and they are physical. This schedule services the power point and versatility question.”
District 9-2A play begins on Oct. 6 at Port Sulphur against South Plaquemines before the Rebels travel uptown to take on Newman at Lupin Field on Oct. 13. Home games against Fisher and Country Day follow and Riverside has another open date on week ten.
“We had a ninth opponent but an error with a contract cost us that game,” Lachney said. That is unfortunate for the kids. You only have ten weeks in the season but we will handle it well. We enjoy our district quite a bit. We have a good relationship with the teams. We look forward to the opportunity to add Fisher and South Plaquemines. It is a group of teams that work great together and look forward to competing well with that group.”
With a host of offensive skill position talent and a physical defense, Riverside has to be considered the early favorite to repeat as the Division III state champion, with all due respect to Notre Dame, Calvary Baptist, Catholic of New Iberia, Country Day, Newman and Dunham.
“We embrace the expectations and the challenges ahead of us,” Lachney said. “That is where every program wants to be.”
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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…