WHITE CASTLE — This time last year Lamar Thomas was teaching middle school gym classes.
Now in his first season as White Castle High’s head football coach, Thomas has the Bulldogs off to a 2-0 start with expectations of better things to come. WCHS has three holdovers from its 2010 Class 1A state championship team and other reasons to expect a return to the postseason.
“I just wanted us to get into the playoffs, to be able to compete for a district championship,” Thomas said. “Especially after looking at them and seeing that there’s some potential there.”
Thomas spent last year regrouping after serving as the head coach at Washington-Marion from 2002-04 and as an assistant at Plaquemine, Zachary, Baker and Capitol. He also said he didn’t find any coaching positions available that seemed like a good fit.
But White Castle offered what Thomas was looking for: good facilities and a supportive community. And it’s that same community that has grown accustomed to winning.
Thomas said his players feed off that history and tradition, but they are also ready to start a new chapter in White Castle football.
“This is a chance for those kids to make their own mark on how they’re going to be remembered as White Castle football players,” Thomas said.
And so far, the Bulldogs are off to a promising start. White Castle defeated Glen Oaks 16-2 in its first game and handled Central Catholic 44-2 on Friday. The Bulldogs defense has yet to surrender a point.
“We’ve made mistakes, but we haven’t given up that big play,” Thomas said. “I’ve been happy about that. We’ve shown some inconsistencies, but we’ve made some big plays ourselves when it counts.”
When Thomas accepted the job, he said he would need to evaluate his personnel before deciding what offense he would run. Since then, he asked several players to change positions to provide added depth and experience.
He also simplified the playbook, throwing out certain plays that made it easier for his young team to comprehend. Anchored by a powerful offensive line — which includes two of the team’s three seniors — Thomas has focused on a strong run game with an emphasis on the play-action pass.
“I condensed things down a little bit, and we’re trying to master a certain skill set,” Thomas said. “If we can master what we’re doing right now, maybe down the line we can add a few wrinkles in. It’s all about us getting better.”
Despite having only 32 players on the roster, Thomas said depth and fatigue have not been an issue. He instituted extra conditioning for players who play both ways and turned to his three seniors — linemen Marcellis Coleman and Gregory Jordan and running back/defensive back Tyrie Lang — to lead both on and off the field.
“They didn’t play a significant role (as sophomores in 2010),” Thomas said. “Now it’s their chance to step up and be leaders. This is their team. It’s only going to go as far as their leadership takes them.”
That leadership will be tested Friday when White Castle faces University High, which will be looking for redemption after falling to Loranger last week.
“All hands are going to have to be on deck,” Thomas said. “We’re going to have to bring our ‘A’ game.
“We can’t turn the ball over. We have to have some long, sustained drives that eat up the clock, and we have to slow down their running game. We have to force them to throw the ball.”
Though Thomas expressed he’s more than pleased with his team’s start, he knows he must refrain from expecting a deeper playoff run than he first expected.
“More could happen, but we still have some tough games ahead of us,” Thomas said. “We’re just going to take it one day at a time. Once we feel we’ve reached our goals, then we’re going to set some higher goals.”
As for Thomas, he couldn’t be happier leaving behind gym class dodgeball for White Castle football.
“Everything has lived up to what I expected,” he said. “It’s actually been a bit more.”