Coming off a Class 3A State Championship, the West Feliciana Saints Look to Build on Success
by Jace LeJeune
What a magical season for the West Feliciana Saints in 2017. After so many seasons of knocking on the door of the state championship game, the Saints were finally able to knock down that door last season not only appearing in the LHSAA Class 3A state championship game, but winning that game for the first time in program history defeating the Richwood Rams 40-21. Even though the Saints are coming off a state championship, there are a lot of question marks for the Saints in 2018 considering the fact that the program lost 20 of 22 starters including six players that have signed to play college football. Those six seniors were huge difference makers and playmakers for the Saints. Some of the biggest names include QB Derek Turner (Louisiana Tech), Derek’s brother RB/WR Derius Davis (TCU), RB/WR Davon “Smoke” Harris (TCU), who was the MVP of the Class 3A state championship game, OT/DT Zakk McKeehan (Georgia Tech), WR/DB Chad Tillery (McNeese State), and WR Antonio Whitaker (Louisiana College). According to senior WR/CB Khiry Morrison, those seniors were the reason the Saints finally got over that hump.
“Losing those 20 seniors are irreplaceable,” Morrison said. “They came in and worked everyday. They never missed practice. Losing those players is something that we cannot replace, but what we can do is build on their success and make it our own this season.”
With dynamite speedsters such as Turner, Davis, and Harris gone, it is up to guys like Morrison and Clayton Howard to continue making big, explosive plays like their predecessors. At 6-1, 182 pounds, Morrison has the size, hands, speed, and all the other physical tools needed to dominate for the Saints this season. Howard is another runningback/wide receiver/defensive back that is not big, but is explosive with the ball in his hands. Even though the Saints will be replacing nearly 5,000 yards of total offense in last year’s trio, West Feliciana Head Coach Robb Odom believes that the duo of Morrison and Howard will be the guys to replicate that production and speed this season.
“They have done everything we have asked them to do,” Odom said. “They have really stepped up as far as helping the other kids and being a good example for them. They are great leaders off the field, but on the field, they are great athletes. They know what it takes and know what we expect out of them. Like the kids before them, they just know how to make plays.”
Louisiana Football Magazine’s recruiting expert Lee Brecheen agrees with Coach Odom as he believes that both Clayton Howard and Khiry Morrison have a chance to do some great things this year with their experience and skill set.
“Clayton Howard is a similar athlete to the kids they had last year,” Brecheen said. “He has the ability to run a 4.40/40. He can play running back, defensive back, and can even return kicks. Khiry Morrison has a chance to be a 1,000 yard receiver this season. He is another great players that came back from the high powered offense with a 6-1, 180 pound frame to go along with 4.5/40 speed.”
Morrison’s size and speed has helped him gain a lot of national attention including offers from Memphis, Arkansas State, Houston, ULL, ULM, McNeese State, Northwestern State, SMU, Southern, Tulane, Tulsa, UTSA, Texas State, Western Kentucky, and even TCU, Morrison decided to follow the path of his predecessors like Derek Turner and Davon “Smoke” Harris to Louisiana Tech as he committed with the Bulldogs on June 9th.
“The coaches have been great,” Morrison said. “The program has been great and has been in contention for a lot of conference championships and bowl games. Also, to get the chance to play with Derek and Davon again will be great as well. We have a chance to do something special together at Louisiana Tech.”
For now, Morrison will have to focus on having a successful senior season which will mean repeating as state champions. Morrison may be the biggest recruit for the Saints this year, but he believes that his teammate Clayton Howard has a chance to get plenty of offers by the end of this year even though he has no offers currently right now. When asking the Louisiana Tech commit about the 5-8, 185 pound Clayton Howard, Morrison actually compared Howard to one of his star teammates from a season ago.
“Clayton Howard is a lot like Davon “Smoke” Harris,” Morrison said. “Both are not that big, but both have the ability to make you miss. I think that Clayton can be even better than “Smoke” just because he has better vision.”
Likewise, Howard had a lot of good to say about Morrison.
“Khiry is a great athlete,” Howard said. “He can do a lot of great things with the ball in his hands.”
The All-District duo will play both sides of the football and will be a big part of what the team does offensively. They are the more familiar names when it comes to West Feliciana fans, but Coach Odom, Morrison, and Howard believe new players such as RB/LB Hunter Duos, WR Dane Rabalais, and WR/CB Sanders Nelson are other skill guys that the Saints will rely on both sides of the football. The Saints will also hand over the signal calling duties to talented sophomore quarterback Bennett Clement, who will replace Derek Turner. Even with the losses at the skill positions, the Saints may still be strong in that area. However, the biggest task is on the line of scrimmage. From last season, only one lineman returns that was a starter. His name is OL/DT Taylor Casteel, who is a four year starter on both sides of the football.
“Taylor is our only returning starter on the line from last season,” Odom said. “He is a leader on that unit and has really stepped up as the guy. Being a four year starter, we expect a lot from him this year.”
Brecheen believes that the success for this team will depend on Casteel, who he believes is the heart and soul of this team.
“Taylor Casteel will be the glue for this team in 2018,” Brecheen said. “He is quick and a tough nosed kid that made some great high effort plays.”
Casteel says that he has always known that he can handle this role for this young team.
“My biggest strengths to my game is that I play hard nose football and I am very versatile,” Casteel said. “I can play anywhere on the line. I am beginning to take on that leadership role because I am now more open to suggestions from other players and that may improve our chance at winning whether it is in a game or in a drill, listening to my teammates might give us a better shot at winning.”
At 5-9, 281 pounds, Casteel is as tough as it comes in high school football as he plays the whole 48 minutes. Off the field, Casteel is very active in the school community participating in many clubs and school activities. Also, he is very smart as he has a 4.7 GPA and a 32 on his ACT.
“My top colleges at the moment are LSU’s Honors College or Rhodes College in Tennessee,” Casteel said. “I have received an official offer from Rhodes along with a merit scholarship, but I have yet to make a decision.”
Also, on the defensive side along with two way players, Casteel, Howard, and Morrison, the unit will rely on All-State linebacker Riyan Cotton, who is only an upcoming junior, DT Dalton Leet, DT Semion Gwin, DE Malik Jacob, DE/LB O’Koryea Anderson, and others. Even though there are a lack of starters on this team, these players can say they have done something that no other West Feliciana team has done, which is play a part in a state championship team.
“The feeling of winning that championship was one of the best I’ve ever had,” Casteel said. “The rush of being in the Dome is like no other. I feel that everybody realized that this was the last game we’d ever together as one. Thus, I feel that gave us the extra motivation and energy we needed to top Richwood and bring home the championship.”
Clayton Howard knows what is like to be on the short end of that stick whether it was in the semis-finals or earlier in previous years.
“The last couple of years, we would lose to Lutcher and some other big powerhouse teams,” Howard said. “We were always so close, but just could not get it done. Getting it done last year, now, we know how to approach and play in these big games.”
In speaking of big games, there are a lot on a pretty tough schedule, but there is only one that sticks out the most for the Saints.
“U-High,” Howard said. “It is going to be a great game and we are very excited to go back and play them this year.”
According to Morrison, the loss to U-High, which was the only loss for the Saints last season, helped fuel the Saints to a state championship run.
“The U-High lost was a wake up call for us,” Morrison said. “After that game, the team seemed to really click and that is when we went on that big run. This year, I am excited to play U-High, but quite honestly, I am just excited for every game on the schedule this season.”
For Coach Odom, winning a state championship does not change his approach to the team and losing last year’s players does not change any of the team’s high expectations for this season.
“Every team is different,” Odom said. “This year’s team is different than last year’s team. Last year’s team is different from the year before that, but we are going to continue to run our system. We are still going to run the option on offense and defensively, we are going to run a 4-2-5. Now, if we need some help on the defensive front, we can move to a three man front. You don’t know what the team is going to be like, but that is just the game of football.”
The three senior West Feliciana starters have a lot of optimism going into the season respectively so after winning the program’s first state championship a season ago. Even though a lot of people have not really see West Feliciana as a threat to repeat, all what matters is what the team believes in.
“Watch out for us this season,” Morrison said. “This is a team that is going to make a lot of noise and do a lot of great things.”
“All I can say is to just wait and see,” Howard said. “Nothing really matters until the games actually start and we are playing under the lights.”
“While losing my teammates was rough, people shouldn’t count us out,” Casteel said. “We are a young group of guys no doubt, but once people finally start understanding the offense, I would tell people to watch out. We have the talent. People just won’t know until it is too late.”
The skill talent and the coaching is there for the Saints to contend for another Class 3A state championship. Also, these players know the process and what it really takes to get to that state championship, which a lot of other high school programs in Louisiana cannot say. Now, they do lose a lot of starters from last year, but like Coach Odom said earlier, this team is a new team and ultimately has the same chance in order to go marching in for another appearance in the Super Dome. The Saints will begin their season on August 31st against rival East Feliciana.