by Taylor Williams
April 1, 2011 – March is when Cinderella stories make their mark on the basketball court and retain them on the gridiron. Flipping a competitive field on its heels is never easy and repeating it is even harder, but that’s what the Jesuit Blue Jays, arguably the surprise squad of the 5A Catholic League in 2010 intends to do.
Jesuit went 10-2 before falling to West Monroe in the third round, losing its two regular season games by a combined four points. The Jays won a district dominated by Archbishop Rummel last year and expectantly dominated by St. Augustine this year. They outscored their opponents by nearly a two to one ratio in the regular season (35 to 18), and like any underdog, got some lucky breaks.
“I knew what we were capable of this past year,” head coach Wayde Keiser said. “But you have to have a lot of luck in this game, especially with the competition we face. Having a couple breaks go our way this year was nice to see because that doesn’t happen very often.”
Luck and surprises are nice, but most coaches prefer consistency, and Jesuit had that defensively in District MVP middle linebacker Deion Jones. “Debo”, as he’s known in Blue Jay Country, was one of several Jesuit players selected to the Louisiana Sportswriters 5A All State team in 2010, and will anchor a defense replacing six starters next year.
The 6-foot-2, 200 pound rising senior is undoubtedly a D1 prospect as an outside linebacker, and for all intents and purposes, is the guy to watch this year, according to Keiser. Also a starting forward on the basketball team (who can dunk flat-footed), Jones has the ranginess to cover out wide, bring pressure up the gut, and drop back in coverage.
“He’s just extremely athletic,” Keiser said. “He can run sideline to sideline, he can cover people running vertically down the field; what he does for us is bring a tremendous amount of athleticism to our defense, which except for the past two years, we haven’t really had.”
Jones’s flankers will be new and fairly inexperienced this year, making the intangibles of his position even more valuable. Discipline trumps all at the outside linebacker position, especially in terms of maintaining pass rush lanes and pre-snap coverage assignments. Young linebackers and defensive backs unfamiliar with scheme and prone to freelancing are often responsible for giving up the big plays, and Keiser expects Jones to help rising juniors Andrew Mitchell and Brandon Munster get acclimated and maintain the defensive standard.
And a defensive standard is vital to Jesuit’s ground-oriented offense, which still hasn’t settled on a starting quarterback and loses four starting linemen. The Jays have recently shifted away from West Coast run-and-shoot elements towards more spread, but without a major vertical threat, their offensive potency is still predicated on short fields and power running. And without a cohesive offensive line and experienced quarterback, the defensive standard that Jones represents, individually and collectively, becomes even more important.
“He’s the best athlete defensively, no doubt about that, but he’s just one of eleven,” Keiser said. “We’re not the biggest and fastest, so the kids we play all have to have a burning desire to get to the ball and be very technique-sound. We’ve done that in the past, and hopefully we can do it again this year.”