High school football can be a game of extremes.
Some teams prefer a pass-oriented spread offense. Others like to pound opponents with a run-oriented option attack.
One of the more unique contrasts can be found among Baton Rouge coaches.
Istrouma High first-year head coach Justin Joseph is just 24. He will be Baton Rouge’s youngest head coach and among the youngest coaches in the state. The former Indians player leads a coaching staff that features no coach over the age of 25.
Parkview Baptist’s Kenny Guillot and others, such as Ascension Catholic’s Doug Moreau, Broadmoor’s Rusty Price and Woodlawn’s Don Jones, represent the opposite end of the spectrum, ranging in age from 64 to 68.
“When I decided to get into coaching, I knew some day I wanted to be a head coach,” Joseph said. “I had no idea when or where that would be.
“Getting the chance to coach at my alma mater was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up. I was hired to teach first. And then when Mr. (Robert) Webb (Istrouma principal) offered me the job, I was surprised and happy.”
Joseph, who graduated from Istrouma in 2006, got his degree in education in 2011. He worked at Woodlawn last fall as a nonfaculty coach before getting a job at Southeast Middle School during the 2011-12 school year. Joseph lost his job in the spring because of teacher and staffing cuts within the East Baton Rouge Parish school system.
He comes to Istrouma, a former EBR school that begins its first year in the Louisiana Recovery School District. The north Baton Rouge school was taken over by the state system last spring based on poor academic scores.
Jamie Payton, a former Dutchtown High standout who completed his college career at Southern University last fall, will be Istrouma’s defensive coordinator. Ex-Loranger player David Maryland is set to be the Indians’ offensive coordinator. All four of Joseph’s assistants are nonfaculty coaches.
The 68-year-old Gulliot begins his 36th season coaching and his 14th at Parkview. The Eagles won Class 3A state titles in 2001, 2007 and 2010.
“The longer you stay in it, you realize it’s not about winning and losing; it really is about the kids,” Guillot said. “And the kids these days need good male role models. So many kids, including some of those at our school, come from single-parent homes.
“Some people call it soft. But as you get older I think you do become more compassionate and more patient. You understand there are more financial issues and family issues than you had when I got into coaching. It’s not like Ozzie and Harriet any more.”
Joseph, who still lives in the Istrouma neighborhood, understands the inner-city environment and culture. Like his older peers, Joseph is determined to instill discipline. As part of the school’s fresh start, the Indians will return to the school’s traditional colors of scarlet and gray.
“When I came in, I was upfront with these guys,” Joseph said. “I told them up front that this wasn’t going to be like the old Istrouma people have seen the last few years.
“I told them that we’re going to win with class and lose with class. We won’t be throwing helmets when we lose or jumping up and down when we win. We need to carry ourselves like young men, and remember we’re representing this school and ourselves.”
Joseph’s start appears to be a solid one, based on the experiences of his peers. Moreau, 65, was the longtime head coach at St. Amant High before going into administration. He later served as an assistant coach at St. Amant before becoming the ACHS head coach this fall. It is his 32nd year in coaching.
“I’ve seen it from both sides,” Moreau said. “I was a head coach at 26 (at Marksville High) and probably made about every mistake I could the first couple of years.
“The best advice I give to young coaches is to get involved in the lives of the players. Early in my career, I didn’t do that as much. Those relationships with your players and the other coaches are the things you value.”
Adds Guillot, “They say it’s not the Xs and Os that matter, it’s the Jims and Joes and I believe that.”
Joseph is working to get off to the right start on both counts since taking over July 2. He and Payton agreed immediately on a 4-3 defensive plan. On offense, Maryland will guide a spread attack. Daily tutoring sessions will be held before practice once school begins To date, the Indians have had approximately 35 players attend regular workouts.
“There are probably five or six guys out who played for Istrouma last year,” Joseph said. “They (Istrouma players) bought into what we wanted to do in just a couple of days. We’ve had some success in 7-on-7 and that definitely helps.”
Woodlawn’s Jones, 64, said he bonded with Joseph a year ago because both are Louisiana College graduates. Jones is in his 41st year of coaching.
“Justin is a fine young man, and I think he’ll do a good job at Istrouma,” Jones said. “I did talk to him right after he got the job. I told him to go in there with a plan and to tell the players what he expects and to be consistent with them.
“He has a great rapport with the kids, which is one of the reasons we liked having him on our staff. Once the school year starts, he’ll need to walk the halls and look for more kids to be involved. That’s part of the process.”
Like Jones, Broadmoor’s Price is 64. He is entering his 37th year of coaching. And like many of his veteran colleagues, he says he worries about the growing shortage of coaches and the fact that schools, such as Istrouma, must rely on so many nonfaculty coaches.
“Not only are there not as many coaches, you have more coaches who specialize,” Price said. “When I started, everybody coached three sports, and we were glad to be coaching.
“I think it’s important to make sure everyone has a sense of ownership and that includes the coaches. One of the mistakes I made early in my career was trying to do too much. When you bring the other coaches into what you’re doing, it strengthens the staff.”
Joseph has gotten a crash course in running a high school football program in the past month. He’s learned about facility upkeep, ordering equipment, planning strategy and transporting players. The first-year coach and Class 4A Indians were buoyed by a recent 7-on-7 win over Scotlandville.
Istrouma meets Capitol in the Coca-Cola Kickoff Classic, then opens its regular season against 5A Central on Aug. 31.
“There’s still a lot do,” Joseph said. “We’re excited about the season. My prime concern is that we do things the right way. ... win or lose. But I’m anxious to see how we do.”