Tara building confidence after quick start

Advocate staff photo by  April BuffingtonTara's Kendrick Burton catches a pass during practice Wednesday.
Advocate staff photo by April BuffingtonTara's Kendrick Burton catches a pass during practice Wednesday.

What had the warning signs of turbulent times, turned into a rallying point for Tara High School’s football team.

Throughout an offseason and summer of change for a program seeking to build a consistent winner, the Trojans weren’t going to implode over a double-digit, nondistrict loss to Pointe Coupee Central.

In years past, things may have been different.

“That was one of the best things I’ve seen in a long time,” Tara senior two-way starter Kendrick Burton said. “The momentum (of a two-game win streak) was taken away and there was a point in time when people would have reverted back to old habits. Instead, they stepped up to the task and tried to get better for the rest of the season.”

With the start of District 6-4A play, Tara (4-2) responded in the affirmative with a 24-6 win over Belaire that not only enabled them to join Friday’s opponent Lutcher atop the league standings, but also helped the Trojans eclipse their victory total of the past two years.

“Having that first district win encouraged us,” Tara senior middle linebacker Moronie Pointer said. “Now, how about we win it out? How about we get after it at practice, work hard and go for it? We’re looking to play hard against Lutcher and hopefully we’ll come away with a victory and the rest of our district games as well.”

Such an improved outlook stems from a change at the top with Weber “Cooter” Mansur, a special teams coach at Tara last season, being elevated to head coach just after Christmas and instituting a well-organized, positive approach to a program that’s paid dividends both on and off the field.

The year on staff a year ago gave Mansur, a former standout defensive back at Redemptorist and the University of Southwestern Louisiana (now UL-Lafayette), a keen sense of what needed to change for the program to truly take off.

“They bought in and there was never a question,” Mansur said. “They decided amongst themselves that if they wanted to be successful this is what we’re going to have to do, and we’re going to have to do it this way.”

The changes have ranged from cosmetic to tangible.

There was a fresh new look in the team’s weight room from a sweeping paint job, complete with motivational slogans on the walls throughout.

The school gave the football program three new projectors and drop-down screens for film study and all of the team’s 100 lockers in the locker room — half of which were in need of repair — are all fixed along with newly reconditioned helmets with new facemasks.

Behind the school, Tara’s practice field was totally refurbished and a new scoreboard was donated, allowing the Trojans to stage their first spring game in three years.

“We feel comfortable,” Pointer said. “It’s organized. Little things like that build up to a big thing.”

That helped contribute to arguably the biggest concrete change since Mansur’s arrival where’s been a greater participation from players, fans and an administration led by Principal Karen Triche.

Mansur, who also has a full staff of eight coaches, estimated Tara completed last season (a second consecutive three-win season) with 42-47 players with 15-20 of those having regularly taken part in summer weight lifting.

Following a successful spring season, capped by a red-gold game, those numbers increased to 50-plus for summer workouts with 82 players (including freshmen) on this year’s roster with 60 of those able to dress in uniform each game.

“They see the positive things going on with the program so they want to be a part of it,” Burton said. “It’s better to see something happen instead of having to constantly tell the person without giving them proof. They can see we’re getting better so they want to be a part of it, especially if they love football.”

In one of his initial meetings with his 22-member senior class Mansur implored that group to establish a standard of excellence and accountability for all players to emulate. He also wanted them to lay a foundation by leaving their mark on the program — one that hasn’t tasted postseason play since 2008.

“You have to have a coach and a leader that’s going to have a vision for everything that helps you overcome a lot of things,” Burton said. “It’s a combined effort between everyone. We all have the same goal which is setting a new standard for Tara football.”