Don Gibson and Hoff Schooler are heading into their sophomore seasons as head coaches at Port Allen High and Brusly High respectively.
It is the second season for each head coach, but the first full year at the helm, including spring workouts and the like.
The first official day of practice is Monday and each coach is heading into the new season looking for a turnaround from tough first seasons.
Gibson looking to build on 2017 campaign
Port Allen missed the playoffs in 2017, finishing the year with a 3-8 mark. However, Gibson said the comfort level between the coaches and the players have been promising and with a full year under his belt, he has seen vast improvements in the culture of the program.
“I think the most important thing is the kids are used to us now, our expectations,” Gibson said. “It’s amazing what a year can do from an attitude and a mentality standpoint for these kids. We’re night and day from where we were a year ago.
“I think I have a really good coaching staff that is pushing the same message and we are unified in our front about our expectations,” he continued. “These guys have answered the call. We’re a young football team, but I’d take this young football team over anything right now, just because of their attitude, their mentality and the way they work. Those things alone just make things a lot different than they were the year before.”
The Pelicans return only five starters and the quarterback competition may last up to the season opener against Brusly.
Sophomore Jacoby Howard and freshman Jeremiah Dehon are competing for the spot.
Howard started one game at quarterback last season, a 21-18 loss to Dunham, but was a consistent starter at slot receiver and cornerback.
Dehon is an incoming freshman who Gibson said has done some good things thus far.
“We have two young guys,” Gibson said. “When you enter that position with inexperience like we have, it’s a little nerve wracking, but at the same time we feel good about these two guys.
“He’s (Dehon) got a lot of things that he does well, but when you’re putting a freshman out there in the fire, there’s going to be a learning curve,” the coach said. “He’s got all of the physical attributes that you want out of a guy at that position. The biggest thing is what’s going to happen when those bullets get to flying in a game. The biggest thing is how he’s going to handle adversity.”
Despite the record, Gibson didn’t view his first season at Port Allen as a struggle. He pointed to the non-district schedule with included the likes of Brusly, Donaldsonville, Plaquemine and Loranger.
He stated that his team’s inability to finish strong costed them a few games during district play.
“We played a really tough non-district schedule,” he said. “Every one of our games we played up. Every one of those teams averaged 60-65 kids, so we did a great job of being competitive. The problem was when we got to district, we didn’t finish.
“You get into the playoffs and you get into the red zone five times against Northeast and don’t finish,” he continued. “You look at things like that and you say ‘it’s about finishing’. If those things would’ve came together, you would’ve had a totally different season. We took a lot of those moments and we use it as coachable moments to tell them this is how we want to do it. That part has been promising because they understood and they’ve responded well to that.”
Brusly wants to finish better in 2018
Schooler ran into some growing pains in his first year at Brusly, as the Panthers finished the season with a 4-6 record and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2010.
Schooler took the Brusly job in June of 2017 and missed out on the spring portion of preparation.
He emphasized how important the transition from year one to year two has been for him and the Panthers.
“It’s just knowing the kids and the lay of the land and having the offseason in the weight room to get where we want to get,” he said. “I think that’s important as a program for us to get in the right mindset to be able to handle adversity and come together as a team. The offseason is where all of that happens. To be able to have that full offseason is the biggest difference between year one and year two.”
Another plus for the Panthers heading into Schooler’s second year is the amount of players.
“Last year show up day one and we had 27 guys, ended up playing with 69-70,” Schooler said. “A lot of it was trying to build numbers. This year, the numbers are already in place. Those guys have been with us throughout the year. To have them hear our voice and our message the whole year, that completely changes the mindset of the team.”
Despite a down year in 2017, Brusly returns six starters on each side of the ball, including junior quarterback Nick Penell who threw for 908 yards and 11 touchdowns and three interceptions a year ago. Penell was also the team’s second-leading rusher with 552 yards and seven scores.
Penell didn’t play football his freshman year and only played basketball. He went out for football right before the fall camp and that has proven to be the right decision for both sides.
“He (Penell) came out last year right before fall camp,” Schooler said. “He never took a snap at quarterback, ends up winning spot. There’s growing pains throughout the season involved with that. He did some great things for us during the season, but there were still some growing pains because he didn’t have that kind of experience. Everything was a new experience. Some of those things he had to learn on the go.
“Nick is a competitor, he’s an intelligent kid,” the coach added. “He took all of those things and in the offseason has been able to really grow and understand the game better and understand what we need him to do better and how to distribute the ball to the other guys and how to lead. He does a really good job for us in football and basketball. He touches the football every play and I’m confident in him touching the football every play.”
With the first day of official practice approaching, Schooler said the mindset now is more of game planning, putting the pieces of the puzzle together and looking to get young guys playing time.
He said it’s all about competing for spots and no one has been penciled in as a starter just yet.
“Go out, compete and try to get a spot and go out and take advantage of your reps when you get them,” he said.
Schooler said he wants to be able to finish games better as he felt his team let a few games slip away last season, which could’ve turned things around.
“You have a couple swing games in Port Allen and Baker where you’re leading late in the game and for whatever reason, things go wrong and you end up not winning those football games,” he explained. “Learning how to finish. Yes, there’s going to be adversity. No game is going to go just the way you planned it out, just like life doesn’t go the way you planned it out. You have to know how to respond to each one and keep moving forward.”
At this part of the year, it’s easy to look at a schedule and try to predict wins and losses, but Schooler said that there’s a lot of work to be done before the games are played.
“Everybody wants to look at a schedule and they want to throw up a win-loss record before the games have even been played,” he said. “It doesn’t work that way. You have to figure out how to line up and do your very best whatever that is in week one. Then put it behind you and do it in week two and so on and so on. Before it’s said and done, you look up and things turn out pretty good for you.”
Brusly has a scrimmage against Dunham and Mckinley at home set for Aug. 17.