47 St. Charles Parish football players in college, professional ranks

While it may be true that St. Charles Parish’s largest export is grain, to football fans it is professional and college football players. With a greater NFL representation than some small states, the St. Charles football factory is in full production and doesn’t seem like it will slow down anytime soon.

The NFL

The NFL is home to eight local players. From a parish of only around 55,000 people, that number is staggering. That means that the parish is churning out NFL players at the rate of a city of 1.5 million people.This year, the tale of those players begins with the Landry brothers.

Dawan and LaRon have been in the league for six years together (Dawan arrived one year earlier), but never before had they each recorded 100 tackles in a season until 2012. As a reward, they both changed addresses and signed new contracts with different teams.

LaRon Landry performed well in the circus that was the New York Jets last season and was named to his first Pro Bowl. LaRon finished the season with 100 tackles, two interceptions (one for his first interception return touchdown) and four forced fumbles.

This season, LaRon leaves the circus and joins a team that many believe is on the rise – the Indianapolis Colts. The feel good story of the year last season, the Colts needed a safety in the offseason and LaRon wanted to go somewhere to win.

LaRon has gained a reputation for being one of the hardest hitters in football and that has put his own body in jeopardy in the past with injuries. But last season, he played in all 16 games for the Jets and this year he does not believe that an early season knee injury will keep him sidelined for long.

“My whole mindset [was not] to rush it back so I could sustain at least a full game before going in a regular season game. [I wanted] to test it out,” LaRon said. “I want to play in preseason games just to get my steps right, just to see the feeling out there. I’ve learned it’s best for me to test the waters out a little but just to see where I am. I’m not going to push an injury that’s not ready either.”

While one Landry brother exited the circus, the other joined it. After posting 100 tackles, two pass deflections and an interception last season, Dawan Landry signed with the New York Jets in the offseason.

With the departure of Tim Tebow, things may settle down a bit. Then again, defense was never the problem for the Jets, so Dawan comes into the team on the better side of the ball. Dawan is also familiar with Rex Ryan’s defense, having played for him in Baltimore. He seems to like it.

“We’re going to bring a lot of pressure, give a lot of players a lot of chances to make plays and just get after people,” Dawan said.

But with all of that aggressiveness, the most important thing is communication, which Dawan says the team is working on.

“We’re jelling,” Dawan said. “Every day is a learning experience. We’re just feeling each other out, making sure that we’re communicating, trying to come out here and play fast.”

For fans of former Destrehan Wildcat and NFL legend Ed Reed, this has been an offseason of good and bad news. The good news is that he signed with the Houston Texans, meaning that it would be easier for local fans to travel to see him. The bad news is that he injured his hip in the offseason and had surgery, putting him on the Physically Unable to Perform list for an uncertain amount of time.

Last season, Reed had another phenomenal year, culminating in his first Super Bowl ring. In the regular season he snatched four interceptions, one for a 78-yard touchdown, while recording 58 tackles, 15 pass deflections and three fumble recoveries. For all that, he was selected to his ninth Pro Bowl.

Reed also set the NFL record for interception return yardage.

His new team is confident that he will be back to that form soon.

“Ed will be back,” Texans head coach Gary Kubiak said. “Actually, we’re going to send Ed to the surgeon to take the last look at him in Vail, but that’s going to be the last step. Then he’ll be back for good and we’ll start working towards hopefully getting him back on the field.”

Reed is likely a first ballot Hall of Famer even if he never steps back onto the field. He currently has the 10th most interceptions in NFL history and the most in the league since 2002. His 1,541 interception return yards are the most in NFL history and his career interception return yard average of 25.3 is the best in NFL history as well.

The big story at this time last season was that the New Orleans Saints had signed former Destrehan Wildcat Jerico Nelson. Nelson not only survived the season with the team, but he even made it into three games.

This season, some were thinking that he was a long shot to make the team again, but head coach Sean Payton disagrees. “I don’t think he’s a long shot. I think more than anything else, it’s the kicking game (where he will play). But I’m anxious to see him. He’s receiving some snaps in the kicking game and for those safeties who may not be on the initial starting lineup or in the initial defensive package, if we’re bringing them to a game they’re going to have to be playing on all the kicking game snaps. He is somebody I think can do that.”

Leaving the hard hitting of the defensive machines behind, there are two local speed demons who enjoyed breakout years for their respective teams in 2012.

The first is former Hahnville Tiger Darius Reynaud, who after a year out of the league caught on in a big way with the Tennessee Titans last season.

Calling Reynaud a return specialist was putting it mildly last season. He returned 53 kickoffs for 1,240 yards and a touchdown, third most in franchise history. He also brought back 31 punts for 410 yards and two touchdowns. His 13.2-yard punt return average was the fourth-highest mark in team history.

But what Reynaud excelled in was big plays. In the third week of the season, he returned a kickoff 105 yards for a touchdown and threw a lateral on a punt return that resulted in a 65-yard touchdown in the Titans’ victory over the Detroit Lions, earning him the honor of AFC Special Teams Player of the Week.

In the season finale, he returned two punts for touchdowns, the longest being an 81-yarder that pushed the Titans over the Jacksonville Jaguars and earned Reynaud a second AFC Special Teams Player of the Week honor. He was the first player in franchise history to return two punts for touchdowns in the same game, and set a single-game franchise record with 160 punt return yards on the day.

He also had 16 carries for 33 yards and five catches for 35 yards on offense.

After those performances, Reynaud obviously enters the season as the main return man for the Titans and will also serve as a backup running back.

The second speedster is former Wildcat Damaris Johnson, who turned an opportunity with the Eagles into a showcase of talent this past season. After making a splash in preseason, Johnson nabbed the starting punt return position and finished the season second in the NFC with an 11.2-yard punt return average, including a dynamic 98-yard return for a touchdown.

He was also a key backup receiver, catching 19 passes for 256 yards, 14 of them going for first downs. This season, Johnson again retains the starting punt return position, but he may also be in the mix for a starting slot receiver spot. This opportunity is exactly what Johnson needs to showcase what he can do.

“I definitely think I can [be more than a return specialist],” Johnson said. “Even in the offseason I went out and prepared. My mind is always focused like that. I just want to be that guy that my team can count on.”

New head coach Chip Kelly’s offense is faster than the offense the Eagles ran last year, but speed works for Johnson.

“With my skill set I think I can play in any offense, but definitely with this one with the speed. It suits me more to get the ball out quick and get it in my hands,” Johnson said.

With a great punt return in preseason action already this season, Johnson has caught the eye of his coach.

“We had a great punt return. Damaris [Johnson] did a great job on his own, but it was probably the one punt return we didn’t block very well all day but it ends up breaking for 60,” Kelly said. “But you had one guy that made a play, and Damaris did make a play on that.”

Punters don’t always get the recognition they deserve, but the San Diego Chargers are aware of the talent they have in former Destrehan Wildcat Mike Scifres, who eclipsed the 500 career punt mark last season.

“500 is a great number,” Scifres said.  “All punters that come into the league just want to get that first one. To be able to last this long and get 500, it’s a great feeling for me. A lot goes into what we do during the week – a lot of punting in practice and a lot of reps to stay physically and mentally into it. I think that plays a big role in getting to that number.”

Besides the milestone, Scifres also punted his way further into the Charger record book with another amazing season. He set a new team record with a 48.3-yard average per punt, which bested the old mark that he set in 2010. Also, he posted a 40.6 net-yard average, which was the second best in team history. With all of these gaudy numbers, Scifres was named the team’s Special Teams Player of the Year.

And if that was not enough, he continued to hold the record of being the most accurate punter of all time, landing 227 of 573 punts inside the 20-yard line, a percentage of 39.6. This season, there is no doubt that the Chargers are thankful that there is one position they do not have to worry about.

The newest member of this incredibly talented NFL group is former Wildcat Josh Victorian, who spent time on several team’s practice squads, including the Saints’, before landing with the Pittsburgh Steelers last season. The defensive back was on the Steelers’ practice squad as well for 11 weeks before being activated. Then he saw action in the season’s final four games, even making his first career start. He finished the season with 10 tackles and two pass deflections.

This season, the Steelers are encouraged by what they see early on from Victorian. Defensive backs coach Carnell Lake said that Victorian is doing a great job so far.

“We had to coach him up quick last year because he wound up starting for us and held his own out there. He’s a sharp, very intelligent player that has great instincts for the game and he’s only capable of getting better,” Lake said. “I think having a full camp with him, I get to see what he’s really capable of.”

Other Professional Leagues

After college, sometimes other football opportunities besides the NFL present themselves. One local player has made a career out of his opportunity, becoming a star in the Canadian Football League (CFL), while another is just beginning to find his way in the Arena Football League (AFL).

In his ninth year in the CFL, former Wildcat Jamall Johnson has become one of the most feared defenders in all of football north of the border. Routinely among the league leaders in tackles, Johnson was 11th overall last season with 75, despite missing the final four games of the season due to injury. This year he already has 32 tackles in eight games and has moved into third place in all-time tackles in team history.

This past year, former Wildcat and LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson found a home with the Pittsburgh Power of the AFL and was named their starter to begin the season.

Unfortunately, the team went on to a 1-5 start and then Jefferson was injured for the rest of the year. In those six games, however, he completed 108 of 196 passes for 1,189 yards and 19 touchdowns while running for 172 yards and two touchdowns.

Division I (FBS)Seeing all of the local talent blossoming in the NFL, parish football fans may wonder if the stream of players can continue. Three seniors in the Division I Football Bowl Subdivision are making a case that it can.

The first of these seniors is former Hahnville star running back Alfred Blue, who was having a phenomenal beginning of the season for the LSU Tigers last year before suffering a serious knee injury in week three. At that point, Blue was second in the SEC with 270 rushing yards after opening the season with back-to-back 100-yard games.

This season, the confidence in Blue’s recovery is already there with him being named the starter two weeks into camp and being named to the Coaches Pre-Season All-SEC Team. Blue is confident that this injury is behind him.

“I feel 110 percent out there. That first day it just felt like I was free, like a chain had been taken off of me and I could just go run free,” he said.

Blue wants to pick up right where he left off last season.

“Where you do not let the first man bring you down and you just send a statement to everybody,” he said.

Also at LSU is defensive back and fellow Hahnville alum Jerqwinick Sandolph, who saw action in nine games as a freshman last season and recorded five tackles. But the highlight to his season was recovering a fumble on punt coverage against Alabama. This season, Sandolph will push for playing time as a backup safety and will continue to contribute on special teams.

Joining the Tigers this year is defensive back and former Wildcat Rickey Jefferson. The freshman ran into some problems off of the field, but head coach Les Miles had nothing but positive things to say about him at the recent Media Day.

“[Jefferson] can really cover,” Miles said. “He’s a very physical player, so he’s going to have to get comfortable in the secondary and understand his responsibilities as it fits into the scheme and the call. We think he’ll have real success.”

The second senior making a case for the NFL is wide receiver Jordan James of the Tulsa Golden Hurricane. The Norco native started all 14 games last season and caught 41 passes for 568 yards and two touchdowns. Those numbers earned him an honorable mention to the All- Conference USA Team. His best game last season was an incredible nine-catch, 145-yard affair against Southern Methodist. But what has impressed head coach Bill Blankenship the most has been James’ blocking ability.

“Jordan is one of our best leaders,” Blankenship said. “He’s a returning starter on offense, and has really been an effective pass-receiver and blocker. He’s just a physical presence and it’s been fun to watch him develop into that physical enforcer-type player for us on offense. He does a good job with run after catch, and also is literally our most physical blocker among the wide receivers.”

Also at Tulsa, Hahnville graduate Johnell Celistan will compete for playing time at cornerback this season after being gray-shirted last year. Coach Blankenship is very impressed with Celistan so far, saying that, “Johnell is still young, but you love his natural ability. The guy can really run. He’s a tall corner. You don’t get very many of those. He’s learning fast. He’s getting a lot of reps, and it’s been good for us to get him here in the spring, and now in the fall, to get him to game speed. He’s going to be a really good football player.”

The third senior making his case for the NFL is Memphis running back Jai Steib, a former Hahnville Tiger. Steib was second on the team last season with 427 rushing yards on 119 carries and tied for the team lead with six rushing touchdowns despite missing time with an injury. He also had four catches for 38 yards.

Memphis head coach Justin Fuente is impressed with the improvement Steib has shown in the past year.

“Jai has shown up in really good physical condition,” Fuente said. “He has really changed his body in the last year. He was slowed by a knee injury last camp and started playing better toward the end of the year. He has made tremendous strides through the summer and the first few days of camp.”

On the opposite side of the ball at Memphis, Derek Howard, another former Hahnville Tiger, is trying to find playing time at the linebacker position after being involved mostly in special teams last season. After coming into camp on the depth chart at linebacker, he could crack the rotation.

Coach Fuente is optimistic as well.

“Derek is a guy who just keeps getting better. He’s a good worker. He has bought into what we are doing now,” Fuente said. “He’s doing some good things on special teams. I think we will just see him continuing to get better every day.”

Back in Louisiana, a former Tiger is looking to become one of the top wide receivers for the Lousiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns. Junior James Butler returned from major knee surgery last year and performed well as a backup receiver, pulling in nine passes for 97 yards and two touchdowns. Now that he is fully recovered, the Ragin’ Cajun coaches have high hopes for him this season.

“James has come into preseason camp a much-improved receiver from a year ago,” receivers coach Jorge Munoz said. “He put in a lot of hard work last year to come back from a major knee surgery and it has paid off.  He is practicing now like an upperclassman and we expect him to step up and be one of our primary receivers this year.”

Former Wildcat Ethan Hutson started his college career on the right foot last year by getting into two games on the offensive line for the Ole Miss Rebels, earning his first letter. This year, the team is hoping he can take another step in the right direction.

“Ethan probably had his best spring. He didn’t see much action last year but is a very, very heady player,” Matt Luke, Ole Miss offensive line coach, said. “We’re just looking for him to step up, be more aggressive and try to increase our depth on the offensive line.”

Two local players are making their college debuts as freshmen not too far from home as former Hahnville linebacker Sergio Medina and quarterback Tanner Lee, from Destrehan, start their careers with the Tulane Green Wave. Tulane assistant head coach Barry Lamb is encouraged by what he sees from Medina.

“Sergio has been working very hard during fall camp,” Lamb said. “We expect him to make a big impact on the field this fall.”

Quarterbacks coach Mike Neu is very impressed with Lee.

“Tanner has done a real nice job in training camp thus far,” Neu said. “The most impressive thing is how he’s taken the knowledge and how quickly he’s picked it up. We knew he had great size and a strong arm, but we’ve really been impressed with how quickly he’s picked up the system.”

Rounding out the Division I players is redshirt-freshman defensive tackle and former Wildcat B.J. Singleton, who will be vying for playing time for the University of Houston Cougars.Division I FCS

Last season saw the emergence of a star in quarterback Wynrick Smothers in the Football Championship Series Subdivision of Division I. After the former Wildcat claimed the starting role for Central Arkansas in camp, he lit up the field and the scoreboard for the Bears, leading them to a 9-2 record, a Southland Conference Championship and a playoff berth. All of this means that the NFL prospects may not be limited to the Division I FBS players.

On the season, Smothers completed 277 passes for 3,101 yards and 31 touchdowns while rushing for 449 yards and three touchdowns. He also was second in the conference with a passing efficiency rating of 151.5. After all of those stats and the team’s success, Smothers was named Southland Conference Offensive Player of the Week four times, which culminated in him being named Southland Conference Offensive Player of the Year. The accolades did not stop there.

Smothers was also named a Phil Steele FCS All-American and this season he has been named the Southland Conference Pre-Season Offensive Player of the Year. But the most prestigious honors could come after this season as he was named to the Walter Payton Award watch list. The Walter Payton Award recognizes the top college football player in the FCS Subdivision each year.

Head coach Clint Conque has every confidence that Smothers’ high level of play will continue.

“Wynrick is a proven leader for our football program,” Conque said. “He refuses to be counted out and lose. Our offense will go as he goes this fall. Wynrick has prepared well this offseason and has positioned himself and our football team to build on the successes we have enjoyed since moving into the Southland Conference.”

The other local senior in Division I FCS is trying to make a name for himself in a new place this year. After three years with Tulane, former Wildcat kicker Ryan Rome transfered to McNeese where he is expected to take over the role as the Cowboys’ field goal and PAT kicker. Last season, Rome was the holder and kickoff specialist for the Green Wave, booting 48 kicks for 2,896 yards and six touchbacks.

Moving closer to home finds two former rivals finally finding playing time for the Southeastern Louisiana Lions. Former Hahnville Tiger Peyton Zeringue, a junior, will be the team’s starting long snapper.

Head coach Ron Roberts praised Zeringue, saying that he, “…did a great job earning that spot. He’ll be a big part of our special teams unit.”

Also getting onto the field will be sophomore and former Wildcat Dereck Robinson. The linebacker saw action in six games last season, recording four tackles and a sack in the season finale against Nicholls State. Coach Roberts was also effusive about Robinson’s play.

“Derek’s had a real good camp and made the transition to outside linebacker,” Roberts said. “We’re real excited. He’s getting better every day. He’ll have a chance to get on the field and be an impact player for us. We’re going to count on him pretty heavily.”

Even closer to home at Nicholls State, four local players are going to try to make their way onto the field for the Colonels. Defensive back and former Wildcat Josh Dewey looks to have the best chance as he is currently second on the depth chart at one of the cornerback slots. The junior had 14 tackles and a 30-yard interception return before suffering a season-ending injury last year.

Two other juniors vying for playing time will be offensive lineman and former Wildcat Ashton Duhe and defensive lineman and former Tiger Jordan Thompson. Duhe, who played at SMU last year, made it into five games last season and earned his first career start against UTEP. Thompson played in eight games last season, logging 14 tackles and a pass deflection.

Also at Nicholls, freshman tight end and former Tiger Cody Morales will begin his college career with the Colonels.Former Hahnville defensive lineman Juvon Gales is garnering rave reviews with the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks in his freshman season.

Defensive tackles coach Jake Morrison says that Gales is, “…unbelievable. He’s got quick feet. He’s got a motor. He’s got all the upside in the world. He’s fun to watch and he’s definitely going to be good.”

Also getting his first opportunity to compete for playing time this year will be offensive guard and former Tiger Alvin Kelly, who was redshirted last year. This year, Kelly looks to help Jackson State maintain success after winning the Eastern Division of the Southwestern Athletic Conference in 2012.

Division II

The Division II stage is not as big as Division I, but it features several bright stars from the area. The brightest of those last season was senior defensive back and former Hahnville Tiger Brion James, who was one of the leaders of the North Alabama Lions defense. James logged 56 tackles last season, six of them for a loss, 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble. This season, head coach Bobby Wallace expects more of the same.

“Brion is one of our leaders and will start for us at outside linebacker,” Wallace said. “He is very athletic and can do a lot of things. Not only is he physical, but he can punt and throw the football and pretty much do anything you need him to do. He is definitely a great person and good student and he is a leader for us off the field as well.”

Meanwhile, just north in Arkansas, former foes on the field are working together to help the Arkansas-Monticello Boll Weevils rise from the bottom of the Great American Conference after a 1-win season in 2012. Senior defensive tackle and former Wildcat Calvin Ursin will be a main component of that effort. Ursin recorded 24 tackles, 1.5 sacks and a quarterback hurry in 2012, but head coach Hud Jackson has his sights set a little higher this season for Calvin.

“Calvin is a really good player who is going to be the healthiest he has been in college so far,” Jackson said. “We really believe his production will be at a different level. He is a great leader who works extremely hard.”

On the Hahnville side at Arkansas-Monticello, junior running back and former Tiger Ivory Washington will be one of the impact players on offense after mainly playing on special teams last season. Washington returned 17 kicks for 370 yards while catching four passes for nine yards and rushing for 14 yards in 2012. Coach Jackson is optimistic about the position change.

“Ivory is a special talent,” Jackson said. “We moved him to running back.  He will give us a lot of touches not only running but catching out of the back field. He’s a very smart player who can also split out in no back situations, which will create some mismatches.  His play will help our offense become very good.”

One state north, two former Wildcats will be fighting for playing time for the Missouri Southern State Lions. Senior defensive lineman Brennan Nora recorded 10 tackles, two and a half of them for losses, and a quarterback hurry in his return to college football after sitting out for two seasons. And redshirt-freshman quarterback Dillan Dent will be looking to get some experience under his belt as he begins his first official year of eligibility. Head coach Daryl Daye hopes that these two athletes can help the team avoid finishing eighth in the MIAA as predicted by the coaches’ poll.

“Brennan and Dillon are two of the many talented young men from Louisiana on our team who are contributing to the success of our program,” Daye said. “We are expecting big things from both of them this year.”

Division IIIFinishing his journey through college football in Division III is senior kicker and former Hahnville Tiger Mike Aucoin. After being the kickoff specialist for the past two years, he will finally have a shot at full kicking duties this season.

“Michael comes into this season as our leading place-kicker,” said head coach Dan Gritti. “I expect him to carry on the success we have had in the kicking game.”

Aucoin will try to help the Lynx maintain the success they had last season when they posted their best record (6-3) in 10 years.

The rest of the local players in Division III are all freshmen, led by former Hahnville quarterback Easton Melancon, who is battling for the open starting quarterback position at Louisiana College.

“Easton worked extremely hard this summer and it shows,” Wildcats head coach Dennis Dunn said. “We threw him right into the fire in a two-minute drill and he looked great. He has very good poise for a freshman quarterback. We just hope he can continue to grasp the playbook and our offense. If he can do that, he has a promising future here at quarterback.”

Melancon has two upperclassmen ahead of him right now on the depth chart, but none of them has ever thrown a collegiate pass yet, which Dunn said levels the playing field somewhat.

Also making his college debut with the Wildcats is linebacker Brandon Zimmer of Luling.

Rounding out the new blood in Division III is the freshmen defensive trio of defensive lineman David Bleakley of Montz, former Wildcats linebacker Joe Sharp Jr. and the currently injured defensive back Rondai Robinson. All three newcomers will fight for playing time to help the Mississippi College Choctaws climb out of the cellar of the American Southwest Conference where they finished with a 2-8 record last year.NAIA

The NAIA will be home to just one St. Charles Parish native this year as running back Kenrick Roberson, from New Sarpy, enters his second year with the Langston University Lions. Roberson will help the Lions try to fulfill the prediction made by the conference coaches that Langston would win the Central States Football League title.Junior Colleges

On the junior college level, the California schools keep up their supply of Hahnville players as former Hahnville running back Lloyd Richard enters his second year at the College of the Desert and former Hahnville offensive lineman James Diggs begins his college career at the College of the Canyons.

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