Tigers overhaul offense, defense under new head coach

August 15, 2014 at 10:06 am  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

Hahnville junior quarterback Mike Neal will lead a new Tiger offense installed under the direction of head coach Nick Saltaformaggio.
Hahnville junior quarterback Mike Neal will lead a new Tiger offense installed under the direction of head coach Nick Saltaformaggio.
New coach, new offense, new defense, new quarterback – this year the Hahnville Tigers are currently experiencing a once-in-a-generation overhaul they hope will see them improve on two back-to-back mediocre seasons.

Following the retirement of Lou Valdin after 15 years atop the program, Hahnville’s new coach, Nick Saltaformaggio, has been busy with what he calls “restoring the H.”

Although school just started this week, Saltaformaggio has been hard at work with his players since June 2 when summer football began.

“We lifted Monday, Wednesday, Friday and practiced Tuesday and Thursday. We did it every single day and we have seen tremendous gains not only in our physical strength explosion, but just in the knowledge of what we are trying to do offensively and defensively,” he said.

This year the team is returning only eight starters combined on offense and defense, which means the Tigers are rebuilding. Part of that rebuilding effort has been focused on installing the option-heavy flexbone offense Saltaformaggio used over the past five years at East Jefferson High School. The unique offense was successful, helping East Jefferson capture the 4A state championship last year with a 15-0 record.

“We are going to base ourselves out of a double slot look like Navy and Georgia Tech,” he said. “We are a triple option football team. You better stop it or we will keep on running it until you do.”

Junior quarterback Mike Neal will lead the offense, which is much different from the shotgun-based one he saw time in last year.

Saltaformaggio said Neal has progressed in picking up the triple option offense well.

“Neal is doing a very good job with his reads,” he said. “I think he is a special talent. Neal did everything we asked him to do in the quarterback competition. He took the bull by the horns.”

Despite running the ball 90 percent of the time at East Jefferson, Saltaformaggio said he also intends to take advantage of Neal’s big arm and his two talented receivers. Senior receiver Brandon Singleton has committed to Georgia Tech, while fellow senior Rickey Preston has committed to Nebraska.

“I’ve never been in this type of environment before with so many good receivers,” Saltaformaggio said.

In particular, Saltaformaggio said he will try to get the ball in Preston’s hands as much as possible“He is dynamic,” he said.  

On the other side of the ball, Hahnville has installed a zone-based 3-3 stack defense that relies heavily on hybrid players who can both make tackles and provide coverage in passing situations.

“Our mission is to shut people out,” Saltaformaggio said.

Part of that mission will fall on the shoulders of senior linebacker Dwaine Thomas, who has already committed to Louisiana Tech in 2015. Thomas has also played both defensive end and safety during his career.

“Fortunately he has been here for four years, but unfortunately he has not played in the same spots any of those four years,” Saltaformaggio said.

Another big piece of the puzzle will be retuning starter Jai Knight at safety. Knight has been ranked as one of the New Orleans area’s best players.

In the end, Saltafomaggio said how the team does this year will be largely based on how they respond to his brand of coaching.

“This is about winning championships for me. I want to make you the best possible human being first, and if they understand that and are willing to make the sacrifices to be a better man the championships will be easy,” he said.

Hahnville will play a full scrimmage at Northshore in Slidell on Friday, Aug. 22 at 5:30 p.m.

View other articles written Kyle Barnett

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