Northshore football team finds its footing without coach Mike Bourg

Late July is a time for high school football teams to think of intense weight-lifting sessions and two-a-day practices.

It’s an opportunity to begin game-planning for jamborees and the season’s first game. It’s a challenging period for every player and coach as the season quickly draws near.

At Northshore, the challenge took an unexpected turn last week when coach Mike Bourg had quadruple bypass surgery. The popular 48-year-old had not shown signs of illness leading up to the July 22 procedure. Bourg is lean and fit and, as his players and assistants said, he’s often a ball of energy, on the field or off.

Bourg was released from Slidell Memorial Hospital on Saturday — more than a week after doctors found one artery completely blocked and three others with 90 percent blockage. He’s resting comfortably at home, but he won’t know his timetable to return to the sideline until a meeting with his cardiologist and surgeon in two weeks.

Although battling the temporary loss of its mentor, Northshore hasn’t missed a beat. The team’s practice schedule is solidified, and all hands are on deck to make sure the ship sails smoothly. The Panthers are set to play in the Lakeshore Jamboree on Aug. 30 and open against Helen Cox at home Sept. 6.

“Mike says he wants to come back now, but we’re all going to wait on the doctors to say what he can and cannot do,” Athletic Director Tom Gainey said Monday. “We are only concerned about Mike. The football part of it will take care of itself.”

To that end, Gainey said Northshore Principal Frank Jabbia was drafting a letter to be sent to the LHSAA that would name defensive coordinator Mike Labourdette interim head coach. Offensive line coach Scott Gaines also is expected to handle some of the head coaching duties, and Gainey has been tackling the administrative end of the position. Gaines and fellow assistants Aaron Dunklin and Mark Hughey will call the plays on offense.

This is not Labourdette’s first foray into head coaching. He filled that role at St. Bernard in 2005, a season that also was hamstrung after two games with an unforeseen problem known as Hurricane Katrina.

He said Northshore’s players have rallied in the past week — perhaps more motivated to win in Bourg’s absence.

“We’re pretty much doing the same things we would with Mike being here,” Labourdette said. “We’re trying to get it done fast and clean, and that’s where the players are right now. We’re here to make sure that keeps happening. Mike is a big part of the program, and everyone knows that. We welcome him back as soon as he can be here. But we made sure long before this, way back in the summer, that the game plan was in place. We’ll be ready.”

Co-captains Dalvin Populist and Bryce Perez, both seniors, said they miss their head coach and that he’s a hard guy not to like. They feel it’s their job now to keep their teammates focused.

“This came out of nowhere,” said Populist, the starting quarterback. “I was thinking about two-a-days. When my dad told me about Coach Bourg, I was in complete shock. I haven’t seen Coach Bourg, but I’m thinking about him. I think we’ve picked it up, trying to do it for him.”

Perez, the Panthers’ starting running back, echoed that sentiment.

“It gives us more of a purpose to play harder and rougher and just get after it,” he said.

The captains said they’ve huddled in person and on social media, sending out a rallying cry to boost their efforts — not just for Bourg, but for the program, too.

“We always talk about ... how we want to do things right,” Populist said. “We have to this for Coach Bourg, basically. This is what he wants.”

For his part, Bourg said via email that he was humbled by the support he has received.

“I want to thank all the coaches, players and families of Northshore for all their prayers and concerns. It was extremely humbling,” he wrote. “For the coaches, I had no doubt that they could run the program without me, and that’s a great feeling. What’s hard is that I just wanted to be there for the kids because I love what I do every day.

“For the kids, I just didn’t want them to feel like I was letting them down. I always asked them to show up and give 100 percent, and they always do. Right now, I can’t, and that’s hard. I’ll work hard to get back as fast as I can because I want to be there for the players and the coaches. ...

“Let the players know I love them, and I’ll be back. Every second, of every minute, of every play, play from the soul.”