Defense shining, offense retools with new faces post-Pooka
Coach Nick Saltaformaggio has a tongue-in-cheek response to the most common question he’s had to answer this spring: how will his Hahnville Tigers even begin to replace Pooka Williams?
“The running joke has been, ‘hey, if I’ve only got to replace one guy, we should be in pretty good shape,’” Saltaformaggio quipped.
Of course, the record-setting halfback who set Louisiana’s single-season rushing record and led Hahnville to the Class 5A championship game as a senior leaves big shoes to fill, as do several other senior players who officially graduated this week. But despite those departures, Saltaformaggio has a positive feeling about the 2018 Tigers, who just wrapped up a productive spring.
“You know, Anthony meant a whole lot to us, and he and a special group of seniors led us to the state championship game,” Saltaformaggio said. “But a lot of kids really picked up where we left off as a football program. I think we’ve got some really good players on both sides of the ball.”
This year’s Hahnville team may make defense it’s calling card, that unit featuring an experienced and talented front seven including Amontae Jernigan, Adonis Friloux, John Pearsall, Jalen Singleton, Logan Brimmer and Corey LaBranch.
“Our front seven is really, really good,” Saltaformaggio said. “And we have some talented kids on the back end. We’re real happy with where we are defensively.”
A notable change on that side of the ball is that Saltaformaggio will be the team’s defensive playcaller with the departure of former Tigers defensive coordinator Chris Stroud.
Saltaformaggio came up as a defensive coach: he was the defensive coordinator at Chalmette before being named the team’s head coach, prior to his days as head coach of East Jefferson and now Hahnville.
He said the scheme will be “tweaked” rather than subject to wholesale changes.
“I’m a rules guy. I have definitive rules that follow field position and formation. I’m less about complexity than lining up, playing hard and making tackles,” Saltaformaggio said. “We’re gonna defend the middle of the field and be good tacklers and individual technicians.”
Offensively, the team will have a new starting backfield. With Williams’ departure, Darryle Evans and Brandon Comardelle step in to lead the way. Saltaformaggio said both are special talents. He also believes the team’s group of wide receivers and tight ends have the depth and talent to make a big impact on Friday nights.
Ultimately, how quickly things come together offensively could come down to how quickly new starting quarterback Andrew Naquin acclimates to his new role. Saltaformaggio says Naquin, who will be a sophomore this fall, gives the team a pure passer with the potential to be a strong leader. But how he adjusts to the speed of the game will be the biggest test, starting with today’s scrimmage.
“He’s gonna have bad moments as everyone does, but he has that moxie you can’t teach. He can handle the bad moments,” Saltaformaggio said. “He’s stepping up to the challenge and I think he’ll handle it and handle it well.”