Live Oak tries to maintain 2012 momentum as it moves into new stadium

Live Oak High’s Antonio Williams isn’t big on words.

The 6-foot, 240-pound senior doesn’t articulate his feelings often, but what he is doing on the football field speaks volumes.

“My favorite part of a play is when I get to hit (somebody),” Williams said. “That’s football.”

For Williams and the Livingston Parish-based Eagles, football is a changing entity. Already a two-time all-district selection as a defensive lineman, Williams now plays middle linebacker for a team making its own big moves.

A year ago, the Eagles were one of Baton Rouge most surprising teams, finishing 5-6, including their first playoff berth in Class 5A. Live Oak’s move to a new school complex that includes a stadium with artificial turf also is part of the transition.

Can a transition turn into a transformation that makes Live Oak a contender in District 4-5A? LOHS coach Barry “Tut” Musemeche and Williams know the jury is out on that question.

“I think the kids have responded to the fact that this is our second year as a coaching staff with them,” Musemeche said. “They’ve had a little taste of success, and they have more confidence.

“That’s when you’re able to maximize who you are; it’s when you have more confidence. A lot of times you’re a half step slow simply because you’re not confident. When you gain confidence, you get that extra half step.”

The idea of Live Oak matching strides with other 5A schools is new. LOHS played its first varsity football season in 1973 and has compiled a handful of winning seasons and playoff berths since.

Plenty of coaches talk about changing the culture or work ethic of a football program. Live Oak has a chance to alter its physical plant and culture together. If LOHS is indeed a 4-5A contender, Williams and his teammates can trace the route to success to a specific point last season.

The Eagles lost to one 4-5A power, Scotlandville High, 20-14, on Oct. 20. Instead of reviewing film, Live Oak went out in full gear for an early Saturday morning practice on an elementary school field located near the old high school.

“It was very intense, Williams said. “Some people had doubts and didn’t buy into what we were doing in the Scotlandville game.

“The coaches wanted us to see we could be better. We had one tackling drill that was real intense. I made a few big hits. So did some other guys. We learned to go hard on every play and to show no weakness.”

About 45 minutes into the practice, Musemeche got a call informing him the Eagles were cleared to practice at their new stadium. Players got into cars and drove down Highway 16 to the stadium and practiced for another 50 minutes.

“At that point, I figured we’d either lose them or they’d come together,” Musemeche said. “Fortunately, it was the latter. Our intensity, work ethic and the way we prepared for a game changed.”

Live Oak beat another 4-5A contender, Zachary, 21-7 the next week en route to a 5-5 regular season. The Eagles’ 36-13 playoff loss to Bossier City’s Parkway High was marred by a pregame warm-up incident in which Musemeche was handcuffed, but not arrested, when his team did not leave the field at a time set by Parkway.

Litigation in a lawsuit filed by Musemeche is pending. The LOHS coach calls the incident “unfortunate” for both schools.

The focus for Williams and the Eagles is squarely on the 2013 season. Linebackers coach Greg Briggs lauds Williams’ efforts as he transitions to play linebacker.

“Antonio is an athlete who was playing on the defensive line for us last year because it was the best fit based on the guys we had,” Briggs said. “Sometimes he did drop back like a linebacker last year. At first, I was worried about his footwork or that he would play too high, but that hasn’t been the case.

“I think he reads and diagnoses plays very well for a guy who is new to the position. There are still things he needs to learn. He already leads by example. Now we’re trying to get him to be more of a vocal leader.”

Briggs and Musemeche know Live Oak won’t have the element of surprise this season. That’s why the emphasis for the Eagles is pay attention to detail in practice and workouts.

“We’ve got to go into every game believing we can do it, but we can’t be overconfident,” Williams said. “And we’ve got to bring it every play.”