The Rummel Raiders will head into the 2013 football season knowing they won’t get a chance to defend their Class 5A state championship, and to say it doesn’t sit well with longtime coach Jay Roth is an understatement.
With the Louisiana High School Athletic Association ruling in January that separates the football playoffs between select and nonselect schools, Rummel will compete in District 9-5A in the regular season against its traditional Catholic League foes, and then face off in a 10-team bracket for the Division I title among the largest select programs.
Not only does this water down the championships, Roth said, but it also greatly changes the tone of the regular season. Overall, 226 of 291 teams will make the playoffs this year or 77.7 percent of all high school football programs across Louisiana.
“Personally, I think it stinks. This makes a mockery of competition and a mockery of a true champion,” he said. “I’m very glad we got one under our belt before it changed. We’re the last true representative of a 5A championship.”
Roth enters this season having to replace half of his 22 starters from last year’s championship squad, and he was hoping to get a shot at defending his title. Now, he’s not exactly sure what he’s defending.
Chances are, he’ll face one or more of his district foes in the playoffs, and that’s what he drills home to his players. He said he’s not quite sure what they grasp, especially when it comes to their new designation as a select school.
“I can’t see how we won’t feel like there’s something missing come playoff time,” Roth said. “I don’t think the kids can understand what’s happening just yet. I mean the state didn’t even know until two weeks ago. This was so ill-prepared and ill-planned.”
At last week’s 7-on-7 tournament at Lakeshore High near Mandeville, the Raiders went about their business trying not to worry about what might happen five months from now. One player said, “it’s only June,” while others simply enjoyed playing football without pads in the 90-degree heat.
“We have tried to follow what’s going on, and I heard the coaches say that all the teams on our schedule, we’ll be playing them again,” said senior cornerback Henré Tolliver. “So we know that if we beat them the first time, they’ll all have revenge on their minds. We’ll just have to have the mindset that we’re playing the playoffs the whole season.”
The Raiders’ first state championship in football last season came one year removed from the school’s 50th anniversary, and each win in the playoffs came against public schools which will be competing in the nonselect division. The program, overall, has been successful under Roth, posting double-digit wins in five of the past seven seasons. That includes a 14-1 record in 2009, when Rummel lost in the Class 5A state title game to West Monroe.
So while he’ll often think about what might have been had the big switch not been forced upon them, Roth will try “to get the kids’ chemistry together” and have them focused on again winning the Catholic League. From there, they’ll play the cards they’ve been dealt.
“We’re going to try and coach them the same way,” he said. “It’s still early in the summer, but my biggest concern is this team coming together. We’ve got to believe in each other, and that’s what we have to work on right now.”
Typically, the LHSAA changes districts and classes once every two years. But Roth said he hopes other principals and coaches from select schools can come up with an idea so they don’t have to wait that long.
“I hope we can make a decision to do something within a year,” he said. “We can break off (from the LHSAA), and offer it up to any team who wants to join. We’ve got to have some competitive blood who says, ‘You know what? I want to play with that group.’
“That was talked about in January, then we decided to wait and see if calmer heads prevailed. And we have waited … and I’d like to see us move in that direction.”
Ultimately, Roth and his Raiders will play it the way they’ve been told. However, if they were to win another championship in Division I and its 10 teams as opposed to last year’s 32-team playoff bracket in Class 5A, he doubts it would feel the same.
“Yes, it would be (tainted), because there’s another champion on the other side playing for the same thing you’re playing for,” he said.
“Whoever wins on either side is going to enjoy it, but as a competitor, in the back of your mind, you’re always going to wonder who was the best team in 5A.”
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