CCHS boasts an experienced team in 2016
The 2016 Central Catholic High School football team (Submitted Photo/Courtesy of Musemeche Photography)
A large, experienced senior class will lead the Central Catholic Eagle football team into the 2016 season.
The Class 1A school has 12 seniors on its 47-player roster.
“A lot of them, this will be their third year starting, some of them their fourth year, so I think that’s a good blend of experience and leadership,” Central Catholic Coach Tommy Minton said. “It’s important.”
The Eagles also return three of five starters on the offensive line. Each returnee earned at least all-district honors, while one player, senior Thomas Garber, was also an all-state selection.
“To me, that’s one area if you can have experience, that’s where you want it,” Minton said of the offensive line. “We’re very experienced at the receiver corps with four returning starters.”
The Eagles, who finished 10-2 in 2015 and advanced to the Division IV quarterfinals where they fell to eventual state champion Southern Lab, also return quarterback Blake Byrne. Byrne will be starting his third year in the backfield this fall.
What the Eagles will have to replace this year is the contributions of standout running back Stefano Guarisco, a Nicholls State signee who set numerous school records.
Guarisco concluded a decorated career with 2,728 yards and 39 touchdowns on 299 carries as a senior. He finished his career as both Central Catholic’s all-time and single-season rushing leader as well as tops in school history in single season and career touchdowns.
He earned district and Acadiana Advocate All-Metro football Classes 3A-1A team top offensive player honors, was a first-team all-state selection and was a second-team selection in USA TODAY High School Sports’ 2015 American Family Insurance All-USA Louisiana football team.
So how do the Eagles replace him?
Minton said he will look to junior Chris Singleton and senior Bailey Badeaux to fill the void.
“I think they’re really going to be a nice blend of power and speed together. … The No. 1 question everybody wants to ask is how you replace Stefano? Well, these guys are different kinds of backs than what Stefano was, but I think they’re going to be very productive running backs that are very good for us,” Minton said.
Below is a look at each of the Eagles positions as well as their schedule:
Byrne returns to his signal-calling position for the third consecutive year. In 2015, he completed 45 of 91 pass attempts for 863 yards with 11 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
“He’s bigger, stronger,” Minton said. “So far (he) has really, really done a good job of stepping up for his senior year.”
Backing Byrne up will be junior Tyler O’Con, while freshman Taylor Blanchard will be the team’s junior varsity quarterback.
As previously stated, Singleton and Badeaux will replace Guarisco’s contributions in the backfield.
In 2015, Singleton rushed 34 times for 218 yards and two touchdowns, while Badeaux carried the football 22 times for 187 yards and three touchdowns. He also caught one touchdown pass.
“We’re going to mix it up a lot this year,” Minton said. “We’ll be one-back (set) some, we’ll be two-back some. … We’re going to use them both in various roles. Both are very physical, strong runners. Two of probably the strongest kids on the team.”
Junior Dominic Skipper, a tight end and defensive end a year ago, is working at fullback this year.
The Eagles return five wide receivers with starting experience from a year ago.
While senior Jalen Johnson returns to his outside receiver spot and Badeaux and senior Gregory Leger are back at inside receiver positions, the Eagles welcome back senior Samarick Paul this fall to the other outside receiver spot. Paul suffered a season-ending injury in last year’s jamboree.
With Paul out a year ago, the Eagles turned to now-junior Cade Minton to replace him.
Leger led the team in receiving a year ago with 11 catches for 370 yards (33.6 average per catch) and four touchdowns, while Johnson had 14 catches for 265 yards and five touchdowns.
Others who will see time at wide receiver are sophomore Brooks Thomas at inside receiver and sophomore DeDe Gant at outside wide receiver.
“With all of those guys playing a ton of defense, it’s important that Cade and Brooks be there and know their roles in all these substitution packages to give those guys a break,” Minton said.
Garber, a first-team All-District 7-1A and Class 1A All-State first-team selection by the Louisiana Sports Writers Association and the Louisiana Football Coaches Association, headlines the offensive line. He will return to his guard position along with senior Jesse Fontenot at the other guard position. Fontenot was a second-team all-district selection a year ago. Senior Mitchell Lemoine, a first-team all-district selection in 2015, returns to his right tackle spot.
Junior Ethan Whittington will start this year at left tackle, while the center position is a battle between sophomore Cade Booty and freshman Michael-Anthony Hill. Senior Hunter Rulf also will see playing time at guard or tackle.
The Eagles will have three new starters on the defensive line. Among those gone from a year ago is T.J. Ruffin, who earned Louisiana Sports Writers Association Class 1A honorable mention All-State honors and first-team all-district honors in 2015. Ruffin had 43 total tackles, two fumble recoveries and seven tackles for loss a season ago.
While the Eagles returned two starters from a year ago on the defensive line in senior Blake Hidalgo and Skipper, both have been moved to linebacker.
The Eagles will insert three new starters. Freshman Kaden Scott will start at nose tackle, while juniors Drake Boudreaux and Isaiah Skipper, Dominic’s cousin, will play at the two defensive end positions.
“We have a lot of other guys that are going to roll through on that defensive line,” Minton said.
He said all of the offensive line can play defense in certain situations, and he anticipates they will play a lot.
Others who could see time on the defensive line at any of the three positions are freshmen Korey Kincaid and Jason Burgess and Booty.
At linebacker, the Eagles must replace first-team all-district and honorable mention Louisiana Sports Writers Association Class 1A All-State selection Tanner Wiggins, who is walking on at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette this fall. In 2015, Wiggins recorded 115 total tackles, five forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and 14 tackles for loss.
At inside linebacker, the Eagles are looking to Dominic Skipper, Hidalgo and junior Cooper LeBlanc, who is battling a knee injury, Minton said.
“We’re hoping that we can get him back 100 percent … because he brings a lot to the table at inside linebacker, and he allows us to possibly play Dominic outside,” Minton said.
Others working at inside linebacker are freshmen Phillip Guarisco, Nathan Hebb and Andrew Duval.
At outside linebacker, the Eagles are working Leger and Badeaux. Freshman Davidyione Bias and junior Braxton Alcina will play a lot, too.
The secondary is headline by Johnson, a University of Louisiana at Lafayette commitment. At defensive back in 2015, Johnson was a first-team all-district, first-team Louisiana Sports Writers Association Class 1A All-State selection and a second-team Louisiana Football Coaches Association All-State selection. He recorded 68 tackles and intercepted four passes a year ago.
Johnson will start at safety this fall along with O’Con.
At cornerback, the Eagles will use Gant and Paul.
Meanwhile, Byrne, Minton and Thomas all will see action in the defensive backfield.
Sydney Holder, a second-team all-district defensive back a year ago, also is back for his senior season.
Central Catholic’s kicking duties this season will be handled by senior Drake Angeron, who is returning from a knee injury that prevented him from kicking for the squad in 2015.
Meanwhile, Angeron is battling Garber for the punting job.
Junior Tyler Longman will be the team’s deep snapper on punts and extra points.
In addition to Minton, who doubles as the team’s offensive coordinator, the Eagles coaching staff returns Keith Thibodeaux, Tyler Jensen, Coby Minton and David Irwin. Newcomers to the staff are Trey Smith and Cory Brodie, son of former Berwick High coach Craig Brodie.
With the retirement of defensive coordinator Larry Lombardo after last school year, Thibodeaux will take over the defensive coordinator role, with assistance from Brodie. Thibodaux also will coach inside linebackers, while Brodie will coach the secondary and help with wide receivers, too.
Smith will coach quarterbacks and will assist with the secondary, while Coby Minton will help his father with the offense. Irwin will coach the defensive line and Jensen will coach running back and outside linebackers.
Central Catholic’s nondistrict schedule features home games against St. John and Opelousas Catholic and an away game against Ascension Catholic before the rest of the season consists of District 7-1A play.
Only Tommy Minton and Gueydan’s Robert Helo remain as head coaches in District 7-1A from a year ago, as the league’s six other schools each have new coaches this fall. Other District 7-1A teams include Centerville, Hanson, Highland Baptist, Lafayette Christian, Vermilion Catholic and Ascension Episcopal.
“We had three of the top four seeds from our district in the playoffs last year, so I would not expect there to be a ton of drop off,” Minton said. “It’s a tough district that gets you ready for the playoffs.”
Central Catholic will conclude its preseason preps Thursday evening when it faces Vermilion Catholic in jamboree action at Teurlings Catholic.