Hahnville head football coach Nick Saltaformaggio believes wholeheartedly that good football teams should test themselves regularly against strong competition. The Tigers 2015 schedule shows him to be a man who practices what he preaches.
HHS will begin the season by facing three state semifinalists or finalists within the first five weeks of the season — and that’s not counting jamboree fare against defending Division I champion Jesuit.
The Tigers open the season at Woodlawn, a playoff team last season now led by former Destrehan offensive coordinator Daniel Luquet. Hahnville then hosts Patterson and Riverside, teams that reached the 3A and Division III semifinals respectively.
And following that start comes what, on paper, promises to be Hahnville’s toughest two-game stretch of the season: a home battle with nemesis and 2014 5A finalist Destrehan, then a trip to Lafayette to face off with major contender St. Thomas More, which was the No. 3 seed in Division I last season.
“It’s a really rugged start,” Saltaformaggio said. “The way we set up the first five games, we’ll know what we are once we get through that. The promising thing about it is if we can get through that with more wins than losses, we’ll set ourselves up to earn a high seed.”
In 2013, Saltaformaggio led East Jefferson to an undefeated season and the first state championship in school history, earning the coach national acclaim.
It also led him to Hahnville, where in his first season as head coach, the Tigers went 9-4 and advanced to the Class 5A quarterfinals, where they were ousted by Destrehan, 24-12. HHS overcame the loss of quarterback Mike Neal for much of last season to advance to that round.
Hahnville hopes to get off on the right foot in the opening game against Woodlawn, which was the No. 14 seed in 5A last season.
“We know that’s going to be a tough game, with coach Luquet making his debut and his team having a lot to play for,” Saltaformaggio said. “They have a lot of strong athletes and they’re going to play with something to prove.”
Then comes the four game stretch Saltaformaggio called a pivotal point in the Tigers season, that pocket of Patterson, Riverside, Destrehan and St. Thomas More.
That third game, of course, will have everyone’s attention.
“It’s not just the biggest rivalry in our area but maybe, if you ask me, the biggest rivalry in the state of Louisiana,” Saltaformaggio said about the annual Hahnville/Destrehan clash.
Destrehan felled Hahnville twice last season. This time around, Saltaformaggio hopes to earn his first victory over his cross-parish rival. That will be a game with major district implications. The St. Thomas More game, meanwhile, is a non-district contest Hahnville scheduled to fill an open date —District 7-5A boasts one less team than last season with the departure of South Lafourche. The matchup, however, promises to be a power points windfall for the victor.
“Those first five weeks will tell us if we’re a state championship contender,” Saltaformaggio said. “We believe we are, from our kids, to our staff, to our community. They say you are what you think you are. Well, we’re going to find out early.”
The second half of the season doesn’t pack the starpower of the first five weeks, but it won’t be a cakewalk, either. Thibodaux defeated Hahnville last season, and Hahnville and East St. John always seem to create a wild, thrilling contest.
“To me, a team is better than you are until you beat them,” Saltaformaggio said. “So, with Thibodaux, we still have something to prove. That’s the Week 10 game for us, and you don’t want to go into the playoffs on the wrong side of the scoreboard.
“At East St. John, you’ve got coach Foster. He coached in the championship game (of 3A) last year and he’s coming in with a lot of expectations on him. I was in that situation last year.
“They always have great athletes and they’re going to be ready to play. They’ve got (Damonte) Coxie, and he’s an LSU commitment.”