WALKER -- Like a line from Nina Simone’s classic song ‘Feeling Good,’ it’s a new dawn and a new day for the Walker football program, and if Saturday’s intra-squad spring game is any indication, new head coach Lester Ricard should be excited about what’s to come for the Wildcats.
Walker went through about 2 hours of drills to close out the spring and both sides of the ball showed they were ready to get to work to improve on an 7-4 record last season, which saw the Wildcats bow out of the Class 5A playoffs after a 67-37 loss to Ouachita Parish in the first round.
The playoff berth was the first for Walker since 2001, and Ricard said all of his team’s practices leading to Saturday’s game showed him that the Wildcats are ready to keep making progress.
“I am really happy,” he said. “We got better every day and competed every day. I’m big on what type of energy you create and every day they came out and brought the right energy.
“We have a long way to go and we are not where we want to be, but I think we are going to get there.”
The team was broken into green and white squads, with the green side consisting of offensive players while the white concentrated on defense.
The Wildcats started the day off running special teams drills, with the most noise made by kicker Caleb Walls, who just missed on a 42-yard field goal try during the session.
The Wildcats ran two sets of untimed plays with the starters, two sets with the second string and one set with the third string.
The starting defense made waves within the first three plays, stopping senior running back Jashown Garrett for a 4-yard loss on the first play and a 1-yard gain on the second. Senior linebacker Josh Cook then picked off a pass from junior quarterback Mason St. Pierre to give the defense a win on the first possession.
The offense took the ball back at the 35-yard line and scored seven plays later when St. Pierre hit a wide-open Trent Montgomery for a 36-yard touchdown after Montgomery confused the defense with a nifty open-field move and was left wide open down the sideline for the score.
On the next possession, the second-string offense had success on the ground with running back Demetrie Wright and also through the air behind the arm of sophomore quarterback Landon Adams, who completed 2-of-3 passes on the drive and also ran once for 10 yards, although that run was called back because of a hold.
The second-string defense held its own, knocking down several passes that were catchable, although a pass interference penalty in the end zone gave the offense a good opportunity to score. The Walker defense was up to the task, however, stopping the offense on fourth down at the 5-yard line.
After the third-string offense and defense ran seven plays, six which featured freshman quarterback Christian Ard either throwing or running the ball, the starters got back on the field and drove the ball 36 yards before stalling at the 29-yard line.
The drive was not without a cost: Senior offensive lineman Jason Lockhart injured his knee on a running play and could miss significant time. The extent of his injury will not be known until further tests are done.
After one more series by the backups, both the first and second strings got to compete in a 15-minute timed half of play. Garrett and fellow running back Tristan Taylor lit up the scoreboard for the starters, with each running for a touchdown –
Garrett from a yard out and Taylor from 7 yards away.
St. Pierre said the Wildcats look forward to the changes that a new head coach brings.
“A lot has changed with the new coaching staff,” he said. “It’s a new Walker and I like the way that it’s going for us.”
With Garrett, Taylor, Colby Knight and others able to run the ball in the backfield, St. Pierre likes the diversity the Wildcats will bring to the field.
“(Those running backs) can just get the job done back there,” he said. “It’s a big help and I really appreciate then.”
The Wildcats also have standout senior wide receiver Darius Hampton, who should get some serious looks from major colleges because of his size and ability to go up and get the ball.
“It’s good to have Darius to rely on because if I throw it up there, he’s going to go and catch it,” St. Pierre said.
The way Adams and Ard played backing up St. Pierre was nice for the senior signal-caller to see.
“We also hang out after practice so it’s nice to have someone to mentor and keep the tradition going,” he said.
Ricard, a former star at Amite and assistant coach at Hahnville, knows that to keep that tradition going, the Wildcats will have to navigate a tough 4-5A district slate.
“I thought I came from the district of death, but I came down here and it doesn’t get any easier,” he said. “That’s what I want.
“It’s all about how we gel together as a group – offense, defense and special teams. How do we make this team be a brotherhood? That’s what I am looking for – to get in here and hone in on that this summer.”
Walker opens its 2017 season at home against Dutchtown on Sept. 1.