by Taylor Williams
February 28, 2011 – If 2010 was a year of surprises in Louisiana high school football, then the Archbishop Rummel Red Raiders undoubtedly fit the bill. The perennial powerhouse of the recently disbanded Catholic league, Rummel’s reputation for winning is preceded only by its proclivity for hard-nosed defense. After an undefeated regular season and state runner-up finish in 2009, the Raiders fell to 4-6 in 2010, their worst mark in head coach Jay Roth’s 17 seasons.
Coach Roth cited inexperience on both sides of the ball, diminished mental and physical toughness, and difficulty finishing games as instrumental to his team’s drop-off. All intangibles easily rectified with time, but with its competition quickly evolving and improving, Rummel is looking to reclaim its Steeler-esque style of power running and more importantly, punch-em-in-the-mouth defense.
But that’s easier said than done, and the Raiders have plenty of shoes to fill defensively this year. They return a couple defensive backs with moderate experience, but no dominant ball-hawking safety like in years past. They will also field an entirely new linebacker corps, and against the ever popular spread offense, outside linebacker play often determines who wins the ground game and subsequently controls the clock.
Enter defensive tackle Branagh Cohen, a 6-foot, 220-pound senior, Rummel’s most experienced defensive player. Cohen is just one of four returning starters for a program that churns out talented defensive players every year. And as for big men, Rummel’s always had plenty, but this year, Cohen is the biggest man in the 4-3.
Luckily for the Raiders however, Cohen was state runner-up in wrestling this past year (215-pound weight class), and has the athleticism and agility to pressure quarterbacks, the lack of which was devastating to last year’s defense.
“Last year we got pushed around at the line and struggled to get after quarterbacks, which led to the defense not being able to get off the field,” coach Roth said. “Getting very few sacks had a snowball effect; this year we need to get back to a tough, physical brand of football.”
With an undersized unit going against the monstrous offensive linemen of schools like St. Augustine, Holy Cross, and Brother Martin, developing a cohesive pass rush attack is vital. Cohen’s size and quickness make him more suited to defensive end, but Rummel’s lack of size mandates his presence inside. Roth expects senior defensive end Scott Migliore to bring the heat off the edge and provide some extra firepower to the attack, and is looking for consistent tackling and pressure to be the most visible improvement from last season.
Cohen appears to embody the kind of toughness his coach is seeking. Wrestling is a grueling sport, perhaps more so mentally than physically, and Cohen proved he could handle that by competing in the state wrestling tournament with a broken hand. He needed surgery but refused it because the timetable for recovery conflicted with the tournament, according to Roth.
“The bottom line is, that this year we have to be stronger, tougher, and more physical,” coach Roth said. “We have to be a team that plays with heart and develop some kind of camaraderie, and I think Branagh is a tough kid and hard worker who can be a leader of this team.”