Amid two weeks of distraction in the leadup to his team’s regular season debut (see story on page 1A), Hahnville head coach Nick Saltaformaggio was relatively at peace Tuesday.
For perhaps the first time since a complaint was filed against HHS and quarterback Andrew Robison sidelined as a result — and certainly for the first time since last Wednesday, when the LHSAA announced sanctions against the school for alleged recruiting violations — Saltaformaggio was free to simply focus on football, and he wants the same for his players.
“I’m just glad we’re getting to play football,” Saltaformaggio said. “I really am. I think our kids need to be able to go out there and play.”
Saltaformaggio won’t be joining them on the sideline this Friday night when the Tigers travel to West Jefferson for opening week competition, serving the first of what will be a four-game suspension. He can prepare the team during the week, however, before handing off gameday head coaching duties to offensive coordinator Mike Silva, a 35-year coaching veteran.
Saltaformaggio expressed full confidence in his staff, noting there is a plethora of head coaching and coordinating experience up and down the line, be it in football or other sports. He also said he won’t be looking over anyone’s shoulder and will try to avoid updates during the game altogether.
“We’ll see if what I always tell my guys is right … I’ve always said I don’t like the games because I don’t have control over them, but I love practice,” Saltaformaggio said. “I’d practice every day of the week, year-round if I could. We’ll see Friday night if that holds true.
“I don’t know what I’ll do, but it won’t be high school football on Friday night.”
Until then, the task at hand is preparation for a West Jefferson team that Saltaformaggio has no illusions will give the Tigers anything easily. The Buccaneers are coached by Cyril Crutchfield, known for his heavy blitzing pressure defenses and who led South Plaquemines to state championship glory behind that formula.
Crutchfield will have some strong athletes at his disposal, Saltaformaggio noting West Jefferson’s dangerous passing game is a particular concern.
“They have a very good quarterback and a couple of quality wide receivers, so we’re going to have to play with intensity to keep them from getting going,” Saltaformaggio said.
With Robison out, the Tigers are turning back to Jha’Quan Jackson, last year’s starting quarterback. Jackson moved to wide receiver in the spring, but the team now needs him in a higher leverage position.
“Our team will go the way he goes offensively,” Saltaformaggio said. “He accounted for over 1,500 yards and scored more than 20 times last season. We need him to have the ball. He’ll have it every snap now.”
Jackson’s rushing ability kept defenses off balance last season, which should take pressure off of running backs Darryle Evans and Brandon Comardelle.
That said, all three players are going to see the ball plenty in an offense that will aim to control the ball and the clock.
“It was a good formula for us last year, hopefully it will be again this year,” Saltaformaggio said.
For any of the three players to find room, Saltaformaggio said, the offensive line must rapidly improve after struggling in the team’s preseason scrimmage and jamboree.
“We have to learn to run block,” he said. “We’re not built to score a lot of points and we’re struggling to block people right now.”
That defense has been virtually airtight in all of its preseason fare, but could have to play a lot of football while the offense rounds into form.
“We’re giving our defensive kids some extra conditioning because they’ll be playing a lot of snaps,” Saltaformaggio said. “I think we’re up to the task.”
JAMBOREE SEES JAYS TOP HAHNVILLE: When the Tigers took the field last Thursday night, they were led out by Robison and met with a loud ovation from a stadium packed full of Hahnville fans, though Jesuit ultimately emerged with the victory.
The team held a 7-3 lead after Jha’Quan Jackson took a kickoff and raced 90 yards for a touchdown late in the first half.
Jesuit answered midway through the second half on a one-yard Willie Robinson rushing touchdown to take a 10-7 lead that stood for the eventual final score.
Like the Tigers’ preseason scrimmage a week ago, the jamboree showcased a dominant Hahnville defense and an offense still finding its way. The Tigers’ pass rush, led by Adonis Friloux, sacked Jesuit five times Thursday night.