St. Paul’s ready to contend for football title in Division I

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The record is clear.

St. Paul’s is a consistent winner in football.

Kenny Sears begins his 19th year as the head coach of the Wolves and sports a very impressive record of 132-66 (67%). Sears is an institution at the Covington School, entering his 28th year coaching overall.

The Wolves have been the dominant team in District 6-5A, much to the chagrin of its public school brethren. There is no reason to believe that St. Paul’s will not be the team to beat again in 2017.

The question remains whether the Wolves are a team to beat on a statewide level.

The level of success in playoff action has been disappointing for all involved, despite some post season victories.

A year ago, St. Paul’s whipped Archbishop Shaw before losing a tough 28-21 decision to eventual Division I state champion Evangel Christian. The Eagles dismantled Holy Cross, whipped powerful John Curtis Christian and drilled Scotlandville for the state title. Only St. Paul’s challenged Evangel. The only other loss for St. Paul’s a year ago was to unbeaten 4A state champion Karr.

“We’re a work in progress,” Sears said. “It looks like a pretty good bunch of seniors for us. Whether or not they come together to provide good leadership is crucial and I think this group is doing so. We played well as a team with everyone understanding their roles. This has a chance to be a good team.”

The talent is still on hand to give St. Paul’s a chance to make a deep playoff run in 2017 with 12 starters back from a year ago.

The optimism starts on offense with six returning starters, including junior quarterback Johntae McDowell (5-11, 185). McDowell was brilliant as a sophomore, completing 198-of-293 passes (68%) for 2,559 yards and 34 touchdowns with just six interceptions while rushing for over 300 yards and a touchdown.

“Johntae has had a great offseason and he had a great year throwing it last year but he can also take off with it,” Sears said. “He just has to keep on working to get better. The sky is the limit for him. We have a few receivers back and that should help. We look to Johntae to be even better guiding our offense this year.”

Bullish senior runningback Corey Williamson (5-11, 225) is back as well. Williamson rushed 135 times for 687 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2016. He missed time with a torn meniscus last season.

“Corey started playing as a freshman and started the last two years,” Sears said. “He has trimmed down a little bit. He has been a little sore in his knee but he should be fine for week one and we expect big things out of him.”

At wide receiver, senior Grant Grosch (6-2, 180) is a big target and came up big a year ago with 28 catches for 446 yards and four touchdowns. Junior Jack Mashburn (6-4, 190), Nick Stanton (6-4, 185) and Will Robinson (6-0, 155) are huge targets as well while seniors Logan Davenport (5-8, 160) and Cameron Vidal (5-9, 175) are other returning starters.

“We’re a little taller across the board than we were last year,” Sears said. “We have nice targets and good experience at receiver. They are flexible and can rotate around. We have some depth there. We can play them in the slot or at receiver. It has worked for us. Jack is a phenomenal athlete and will be our backup quarterback as well and he will get some snaps there.”

Up front, the Wolves have a pair of returning starters in senior Andrew Eikel (5-10, 220) and Owen Hnatyshyn (6-3, 265). The new starters include juniors Matthew Algero (5-11, 275), Jared Kreeger (6-3, 275) and Bear Palazzo (6-2, 280).

“Eikel started at center last year and he has become a leader for us,” Sears said. “He has had a very good spring and camp. His snaps are perfect and makes our line calls. Hnatyshyn is a great athlete at tackle and a prospect. Bear Palazzo is the other tackle and he has size. Algero and Kreeger give us good size. This is one of the biggest offensive lines we’ve had in a long time.”

Six starters return on the defensive side as well.

Up front, senior end Noah Seiden (6-3, 230) is the best player.

Seiden was in on 25 tackles, including seven sacks, a year ago. Others figuring prominently include seniors Lain Scobel (6-4, 225), Spencer Fox (6-3, 190), Connor Stuard (6-0, 240) and Nick Picone (5-10, 265). The linebacker level is led by a returning starter in junior Paul Gremillion (6-1, 205), who had 48 stops, an interception and a fumble recovery last season. Senior Tyler Lacoste (6-1, 200) returns as well. The new starters are senior Zach Bodenheimer (6-0, 215) and junior Michael Phillipe (6-1, 200).

The secondary is a strength. Senior Jack Bonaldi (5-10, 170), junior Robert Buquoi (6-3, 185) and sophomore Wayne Galloway (6-1, 190) all return as starters. Bonaldi was in on 36 tackles and had a pair of interceptions while Buquoi was in on 49 tackles with one interception a year ago.

“Noah is our anchor up front,” Sears said. “Lane Scobel and Spencer Fox are solid. Stuard got experience at the nose spot and Picone is strong, along with Jordan Eberts. Bodehnehmier will play the middle linebacker spot while Gremillion is the strongside guy. Ian McCarthy will play some as well. Lacoste is a very good athlete. Galloway has a great future. He is bigger and smarter. Buquoi is the free safety and has good size. Bonaldi provides experience and leadership. Seniors Gabe Ingram (5-11, 160) and Conrad Robinson (5-11, 175) will play as well.”

The schedule, as always, is challenging.

After scrimmaging John Curtis and playing Rummel in jamboree action, the Wolves again open the season with powerful Karr on Sept. 1 at Hunter Stadium before hosting Jesuit and Christian Brothers of Memphis, Tennessee.

“As always, facing Curtis, Rummel, Karr and Jesuit prepares us well for district play,” Sears said. “Christian Brothers is a powerhouse team and it is a game with a brother school. We will go there next year. It is exciting for us.”

The Wolves open district play on Sept. 22 at home against Northshore before playing their first road game in week five, at Hammond. After hosting arch-rival Covington in week six, St. Paul’s faces a stout challenge at The Swamp against Ponchatoula on Oct. 13. The Wolves host Slidell on Oct. 20 before traveling for a tough road game at Mandeville. The regular season ends on Nov. 3 at Fontainebleau.

“Covington has a good team coming back with a big offensive line and runningback,” Sears. “Mandeville does a great job coaching and playing year in and year out. Hank Tierney does a great job at Ponchatoula. Fontainebleau has size and prospects. Slidell will be pretty good. That is why we play the pre-district schedule.”

While Evangel, John Curtis, Rummel and Scotlandville are certainly Division I powers, St. Paul’s will be in that mix as well, along with Catholic of Baton Rouge. The Wolves have the talent to go far. Could this be the year?

“We just have to take it one week at a time,” Sears said. “There are so many factors that must happen. You need a break or two. Sometimes we’ve fallen short. Last year, we got a playoff win and played a great game against Evangel. We feel good about where we are and what we put in week in and week out. We believe that eventually, the dam will break. We’ll keep hammering away at that rocket until it cracks. Eventually, if we keep working hard, good things will happen for us.”

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