by Taylor Williams
January 26, 2011 – With 1st team All State free safety Ellis Carey leaving for one of several Louisiana schools, including Louisiana Tech, ULM, or McNeese, the Helen Cox Cougars are looking for someone new to take the reins on defense.
Cox had one of its better seasons in 2010, finishing 5-5 with a 3-2 district record before falling to eventual 4A state champion Franklinton in the first round of postseason play. Former St Augustine defensive coordinator and Cougars head coach Willie Brooks runs a 4-2-5 base that relies heavily on athleticism at the linebacker and defensive back positions, and now needs a new big-time playmaker and locker room leader.
Enter Royce Lafrance, a 6-foot-3, 210-pound inside linebacker and multi-year starter for Cox. Lafrance, a rising senior and All District player in 2010, was integral to Cox’s nickel defense as both a run-stopper and cover man, and fits the physical bill for special teams play.
“Every championship team needs to be built on defense,” Coach Brooks said. “Our game starts and ends on the defensive side of the ball, and I expect Royce to be a huge factor next year.”
Cox returns seven defensive starters next year, more size up front, and thanks to Brooks’s requirement that all skill position players run track, plenty of speed in the backfield.
But linebacker play still fuels this defense, especially against run-heavy offenses. And with most good teams, the mental responsibilities of quarterbacking a defense- knowing others’ assignments and gaps, staying disciplined in pass rush lanes, holding coverage zones on play-action- fall on either the free safety or middle linebacker.
Lafrance is the inside linebacker in this case, but equally equipped to handle those responsibilities. He’s a Division 1 prospect with a complete skill set- tackling, speed, cover skills, ball skills- and there’s no question that Cox will need it every game.
With the departure of offensive coordinator Reggie Rogers to Bonnabel, the Cougars offense is slightly in limbo. Former East Ascension coach John Lambert is the new OC and should provide more balance to Cox’s spread offense, according to Brooks, but the fact remains that any playoff run the Cougars assemble in 2011 will be spearheaded by hard-nosed defense.
Not that such a playoff run is unrealistic. Cox improved from a 3-7 injury-plagued season in 2009 to 5-5 this year and shut out several opponents in the process. The team struggled to finish games and let several leads slip away with costly turnovers, but Brooks believes his team, and especially his defense, can hang with the best of them.
“I feel like 4A is up for grabs next year,” Brooks said. “We’re building a tradition here, we’ve had the opportunity to play against some tradition-rich programs that have given us a gauge on where we are. We just need to keep things in perspective and keep playing hard nosed D.”