Former rivals start blending process, also out to promote school unity
Coach Emanuel Powell leaned forward to show a picture on his cell phone. It’s a football player wearing a uniform, which starting this fall will define a new, somewhat controversial, but necessary chapter at two New Orleans public schools.
“That’s Walker blue, Landry orange,” said Powell, smiling. “How do you go wrong? Everybody give a color up. We give up navy, they give up gold.”
And they all get a better high school. Maybe even a better football team.
No more Chargers and Buccaneers. Prepare for the Charging Buccaneers of L.B. Landry-O.P. Walker College and Career Preparatory High School. Or Landry-Walker.
Decreased enrollment at the West Bank campuses forced the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education this spring to combine the two schools, nearly walking distance from their Algiers neighborhoods.
The move has transformed neighborhood rivals into teammates.
Powell will coach the new school’s inaugural season on the field.
Walker is coming off a 7-3 campaign and first-round exit from the playoffs. Two seasons ago, Walker reached the 4A state semifinals. Landry played a junior varsity schedule the past two seasons.
Players from both schools have spent this spring and the early part of the summer practicing.
“We already have a bond. We already have a connection on and off the field,” said quarterback Li’Jon Cordier, who played last season at Walker. “We all got to know each other. We found out some amazing things we could do on the field.”
It’s taken members of both schools’ community weeks, months to adjust to the merger, including Powell, a Walker graduate who has also coached at Landry.
Players, though, appear to have made a faster adjustment. Former Landry players realized the rumors were untrue; they would receive a fair shot at starting jobs. To be fair, Powell slowed down the coaching process to allow them to learn Walker’s old system — already familiar to former Chargers. He also studied Landry’s game film from 2012.
The football team’s acceptance of change is vital to the overall success of the merger. The sport kicks off the fall semester, and if the players — many of them leaders in the classroom and lunchroom — believe in change, classmates will likely follow.
They envision Landry-Walker as the latest powerhouse in the South, ready to compete this fall against the best in Class 4A. They won’t have to go far to do so. The state champions are in their district.
“I feel sorry for Edna Karr,” said receiver Joseph Parker, who played last season at Landry. “There’s not just two receivers they have to watch. They have to watch everybody now. Then we have a quarterback who can really read.
“It’s over for Karr.”
If Landry-Walker’s enrollment stays steady, the school may move to Class 5A, the state’s largest classification, in 2015.
Landry-Walker will operate a spread offense, allowing their combined speed to get into space. So far, it’s worked. The team won a high school 7-on-7 tournament earlier this month in Alexandria, averaging more than 40 points in three games.
Can they do the same against McDonogh 35, Warren Easton and Belle Chase?
Seven former Walker lettermen already have scholarship offers, including offensive tackle Alex Anderson, who will be one of the most sought-after recruits in the state. Meanwhile, most of the secondary (cornerback Travon Hobbs, strong safety Damien Jackson and free safety Anthony Newton) is receiving interest from Big 12 schools, among others.
Former Landry players expected to receive similar interest include inside linebackers Jason Caldwell and Myron LaRose. Damian Bocage, a former Walker assistant coach who finished last season as Landry’s coach, will work on the Landry-Walker staff.
That’s more than enough to excite Powell, who guided Walker to the playoffs three of his four seasons as head coach.
“Initially my thoughts were that Landry needs to be Landry, Walker needs to be Walker,” Powell said. “But the more I thought about how big it can really be, you start to get ideas about if you merge these two schools, you can really have something working.”