The license plate on Terence Williams’ truck says “Just Work.”
It speaks volumes about the man and the task he faces as the first-year football coach at Redemptorist High School.
“I tell the kids every day, yes we were 0-9 last year,” Williams said. “But we have to look at this as what-if. What a great story it would be if we can bring it back. That’s our mission.”
The Wolves enjoyed a meteoric rise to prominence from 2000-10, but plummeted back to earth even faster.
After advancing to the Class 3A quarterfinals in 2010, the Wolves finished 4-7 and 0-9 in Class 2A the past two years. Williams, previously the head coach at Donaldsonville, is the school’s fourth coach in the two-plus years.
The average person who walked into the Redemptorist weight room last week would note the small number of players. As he surveys the weight room, Williams sees hope and a foundation to build on.
At one point, the 42-year-old coach grabs a set of free weights during Thursday’s strength training and demonstrates a drill. And then, he smiles.
“One of the things I like most about Terence is his positive attitude,” Redemptorist Principal Maribeth Andereck said. “Now I also think he’s a outstanding football coach. But I think a lot of that has to do with his attitude. And he’s always smiling.”
Chasing a legacy
Whether Williams can build the Wolves into a winner again is a point for debate. Why he took the job is not. The former Belaire standout considers coaching at Redemptorist to be a cross between a homecoming and calling.
“I started coaching youth football right around the corner from here,” Williams said. “I remember being in the Superdome, watching Redemptorist play for a state title in 2000 like it was yesterday. One of the kids I coached, Shelton Sampson, was a running back.
“They came back and won it in 2002 and 2003. In 2003, Redemptorist beat John Curtis to win the Class 4A state title. I was fortunate to be on a staff that won a state title in Texas (Northshore-Houston) that same year. There are a lot of parallels.
“In my mind, it’s still the same Redemptorist. It’s still located at 4000 St. Gerard St. These are the same four walls those teams were in. We have to work to build things back.”
Williams currently has between 30 and 35 players consistently attending conditioning workouts and 7-on-7 drills against other schools. That group includes five seniors and only three juniors.
More than numbers
Andereck notes that the task ahead is as much a school reclamation project as it is a football one.
Enrollment at Redemptorist dipped from 3A to 2A before the 2011-12 season. Last fall, the north Baton Rouge school had an enrollment of 228 and fell into the Class 1A range when the Louisiana High School Athletic Association reclassified its schools, but opted to play up to Class 2A. Football players were among the transfers who left the school.
Rumors about the Baton Rouge Archdiocese wanting to close the school have circulated for more than a year. Andereck is beginning her second year at the school and has heard the rumors, too. She said the school’s enrollment was close to 250 by the end of the year. It’s now at about 275 and may be closer to 300 by the time school starts, she said.
“One of the things we need to do a better job of is promoting the positive things the school and our students do,” Andereck said. “We’ve had probably 25 to 30 students enroll who are coming back from other schools, which is good.”
Williams compares his situation to what happened in 1997 when Redemptorist alum Sid Edwards, now the head coach at Central, took over. The Wolves rocketed to prominence, finishing as the 3A runner-up in 2000 before winning titles in 3A in 2002 and 4A in 2003 under Edwards, along with another 3A title in 2005 under current Dunham coach Guy Mistretta.
Edwards was part of the search committee that led to Williams’ hiring. He sees similarities and differences. Mistretta, former RHS basketball coach Gary Duhe (St. Amant) and ex-RHS assistant Guy Blanchard (Port Allen) are among those who have reached out to Redemptorist.
“I am convinced Terence is the right man for the job,” Edwards said. “He’s coached in a lot of situations. Can he succeed? Yes, I think he can. In my heart, I believe there is a place for Redemptorist to thrive.
“When I was in school, it was a 2A to 3A type school. I don’t think you’ll ever see 4A enrollment again. The educational landscape has changed since 1997. I also believe the health of the school is tied to the success of the football team.”
Edwards said 14 starters on the Wolves’ 2002 title team came from Central, which at the time hadn’t won a football playoff game in 30 years. Through the years, both Central and Zachary have broken off to form independent school districts that are now ranked tops in the state.
The rise to athletic prominence of other private schools, including Parkview Baptist, Christian Life and St. Michael the Archangel, along with the steady presence of others like Catholic High, Episcopal and University High, a lab school, also is notable.
“The things that have never been in question about Redemptorist remain the same, like the Catholicism and the education,” Edwards said. “When I took over, Catholic High was the big dog in football. Now there are a lot of educational choices out there that offer successful sports teams.”
Quarterback-defensive back Russell Gage is set to be one of the Wolves’ standard-bearers. Gage, the cousin of former RHS and Zachary standout Donald Gage, has an offer from Tulane.
“It’s been hard the last couple of years, but you have to have faith in your school,” Gage said. “I wanted to stick it out and I want to be one of the guys who helps bring things back. (Williams) doesn’t sugar coat it … he wants to win.”
Another senior, quarterback-receiver-linebacker Chris McDaniel, sees progress.
“A lot of us have gotten bigger and stronger since (Williams) got here,” McDaniel said. “It’s going to take all of us working constantly to make a difference.”
Williams points to the school’s blue-collar roots as he expresses the importance of hard work.
“I’m upfront about things,” Williams said. “I tell people Redemptorist a choice and that we don’t give athletic scholarships. There are a lot of alumni who love this school. We’re still that working-class school located across the street from Tony’s (Seafood). Yes, we’re still here.”