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Wildcats look to turn things around in 2012


Senior wide receiver/defensive back Shaquille Narcisse (5), junior split end/defensive back Rashaan Dennis (4), senior offensive lineman/defensive lineman De'Jon Winchester (79) and senior linebacker/fullback Seth Keller are determined to help the St. James Wildcats rebound from last season's 0-10 record. (Photo by Brent St. Germain/Staff)


ST. JAMES — The 2011 season is one the St. James Wildcats would like to forget.

Injuries and adjusting to a coaching change took a toll on the Wildcats, as they struggled to a 0-10 record. According to records dating back to 1951, it was St. James' first 0-10 season.

But that was then, and the 2012 season is now for the Wildcats.

The St. James players have one goal in mind for the upcoming season — returning to their winning ways.

"This season will be an eye opener for a lot of people," senior linebacker Seth Keller said. "We went 0-10 last season as a lot of people know, but this year we will be able to show people that we are back to playing St. James football."

Senior wide receiver/defensive back Shaquille Narcisse said the Wildcats want to show people that they have the potential to still be one of the top Class 3A teams in the state.

"We are really excited for this season because we have a lot to prove after going 0-10 last season," Narcisse said. "We want to show everybody that we are a better team than what we appeared to be."

St. James has earned the reputation as being one of the top high school programs in the state, playing in eight state championship games — winning titles in 1959 (Class B), 1960 (Class B), 1966 (Class B) and 1979 (Class 3A) — and being a regular participant in the state playoffs.

Second-year coach James Bell said the team has worked hard throughout the offseason from lifting weights to participating in a seven-on-seven passing camp to turn things around.

"We started getting ready for this season back in December by spending time in the weight room," Bell said. "We didn't want to waste that much time. We wanted to quickly put last season behind us and move forward. The kids are working hard, and we are just rounding them into shape. We are looking forward to our first opportunity to go out and play."

Bell took over the St. James football program in the summer of 2011, replacing longtime coach Rick Gaille. By arriving in the summer, Bell was unable to work with the team in spring drills and implement much of his philosophy for the 2011 season.

Narcisse said it was tough adjusting to a new coach while preparing for the regular season.

"Being it was coach Bell's first year last season, we really didn't have any team chemistry," he said. "Now, we have gotten to know him and we showed him what we could do, we are determined to turn things around."

Senior offensive tackle/defensive tackle De'Jon Winchester said the players enjoy playing for Bell and believes he will turn things around this season.

"Coach Bell is a good coach, and he teaches us to be respectful and kind to others," Winchester said. "He wants us to show respect to our teammates, and the second thing is how to play football. Coach Bell is a good coach, and he can do it all."

Bell said there was one positive to come out of last season's struggles. It brought the team closer together.

"Anytime you have a lot of young guys on your team, they are hungry and want to prove something," Bell said. "They worked really hard in the offseason and survived the spring, so that give them the initiative to move forward. They have come together and are a close-knit group. We are all growing together, and it has been exciting."

With a year under his belt, Bell said things have been going much smoother. He has been able to implement his entire system and worked with the team throughout the spring drills.

But, Bell said the work is not completely done for the Wildcats' Aug. 31 season opener against River Parish rival West St. John. He is still trying to finalize his starting lineup for 2012 season.

"A lot of our positions are wide open right now," he said. "We are trying to mix and match and trying to get the best people on the field to help us win the game. We will have one in place before our first game."

Some of the top players he will be counting on for the upcoming season are Keller, Narcisse, linebacker Rayvonne Lawrence, center Juwan Lumar and defensive back/split end Rashaan Dennis.

Bell said he has not settled on a starting quarterback for the upcoming season, but two players — D'Kwan Sandolph and Jason Favorite — are vying for the spot.

Dennis said the players have worked hard to move past the 2011 season and are determined to return to winning ways of St. James football.

"We are very hungry. We have been working hard and trying to get back at it like the old St. James," Dennis said. "We were 0-10 last year, and we are trying to get back at it."

Winchester said the players are determined to make 2012 a memorable season and make last season's struggles a distant memory.

"It was tough … I'm not going to lie. It was tough to see my team go down to 0-10, but this year will be different," he said. "We are working as a team, together, and planning on going all the way."