The in and out of prep baseball warmups is no longer routine

The Loyola baseball team had just finished taking infield practice before the 1999 Class 2A state championship game in Baton Rouge and the Flyers were coming off the field as Teurlings Catholic was preparing for its turn.

“Have a seat, guys,” said Flyers’ assistant coach Glen Hunt. “It’s time to watch the circus.”

And it was. Teurlings put every single player on the field – not just the starters – and proceeded to have an infield-outfield session that had to be seen to be believed. (Loyola had seen it the previous day in the semifinals.)

There were always at least three live baseballs in play at one time and nobody ever stopped moving. There was enough choreography going on to make a Broadway producer jealous.

It’s hard to know exactly what kind impact it had on the Flyers as they watched from the first base dugout. It may be too much to say that the Flyers had lost before the game even started, but it sure didn’t take long. Loyola lost 12-1. It only took five innings.

There’s a lot more going on in pre-game practice in baseball than just take a few ground balls. Or even for those who don’t take any.

The popular term for taking pre-game infield and outfield practice is “in and out” but while some teams are still “in,” there are a growing number who are “out.” Put it this way – don’t be surprised if at least one of the teams doesn’t trot out there for a few grounders before the game starts.

“I’ve got a philosophy on that,” says veteran Haughton coach Glenn Maynor. “If the team we are playing doesn’t want to take infield or outfield before a game, that team shouldn’t beat us.”

Imagine going to a football game and the place kickers didn’t come out early and practice some kicks. Not a care in the world about the wind conditions.

How about a basketball game in which the players didn’t take a few layups or practice a few free throws just to get a feel for the tightness of the rims or the depth perception of the goal?

But it happens in baseball – and a lot more than you’d think.

At the Class 5A level, almost all continue to take in-and-out before the game, but the lower you go in classification, the more likely it is that they might not.

“We take it (on the road) so that we can get used to the field and get settled in before the game starts,” said Byrd coach Greg Williams. “On the road, you are looking to see how the grass plays and how the ball reacts. At home, you already know that, but baseball coaches like routine and that’s just what we like to do.”

You probably won’t see the “circus,” but most teams that do take it like to send more than just the starters on the field. “It’s not really a game, but it feels like one to the younger players,” Northwood’s Austin Alexander said. “It’s a free chance to get some game experience for some of those guys.”

Early-season tournaments or weather conditions can be a reason to not take infield, but for teams that don’t take it before a game, there’s a simple reason why: They don’t want to give the opposition a free scouting report.

At least, that’s the thought process.

Maynor says he really doesn’t pay much attention to what the opposition is doing. “I might ask my assistant coach about how the outfield arms are,” he says. “But for most part, I’ve got my own team to worry about before a game starts.”

“I check to see about the outfield arms,” Williams said. “A lot of times I’ll look and see if a guy pitched a few nights before, how he’s throwing the ball.”

Alexander says he didn’t take in-and-out his first two years, but does it now and his players look forward to it.

“They love it,” the fourth-year coach said. “It’s a big deal to them and they take a lot of pride in it.”

So what if the pre-game session doesn’t go so well, with dropped fly balls and through-the-wickets grounders?

“Better to get that out of the way before the game,” Alexander says, “than during it.” 

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A reason to celebrate 100 different ways for the legendary Sibley Raiders

When you think about it – even four decades later – it’s still incredible to think that a team from a tiny town in Webster Parish won 100 games. Some schools have a hard time winning 100 in a decade. The Sibley Raiders won 100 the hard way.

In a row.

And in a way, the symmetry of it all makes it even better. Not 93 in a row or a 103 in a row.

A perfect 100. Easy to remember.

Of course, who could forget what the Sibley Raiders did in the late 1970s and early 1980s? Certainly not those involved, and they will get together Saturday as part of the Celebration of Champions at the Minden REC.

They need not worry about being forgotten, because it will be a long time before their accomplishment gets matched. For that matter, it’s probably not a good idea to hold your breath waiting for anybody else to even come close.

The Raiders were state champions in 1978-79, then went 58-0 on the way to another state championship in 1979-80. They kept it going into a third season before losing to next-door-neighbor Doyline on Nov. 22, 1980 – in Sibley’s own tournament.

But to be sure, it wasn’t by accident.

“We had passion,” says Willie Jackson, the unquestioned star of the team who went on to play at Centenary before being drafted by the Houston Rockets. “We loved each other and we were a group guys who lived in the same community.”

Basketball is just what they did. They’d play on dirt courts and nail a backboard to a pole if they needed to, or they’d head over to someone’s house and get up a game.

“That was a special time.” Jackson says.

Which is why they have some special memories. Especially one.

The previous national record for most wins in an unbeaten season was 52 and the Raiders were 56-0 when they entered the state semifinals against Leonville. Sibley was down a point with four seconds to go when the Raiders inbounded the ball, made two passes – and two dribbles – before the ball ended up in the hands of Carl Myles, who sank a game-winning 12-footer just before the buzzer to keep the streak alive.

Everybody touched the ball on that game-winning possession … except Jackson.

Sibley went on to win in the finals 72-61 over Holy Rosary and set the national record.

“To be honest, I really didn’t know how special that was at the time,” Jackson says. “As years have passed, I see it now. It was something special; something that may not be broken for a long time.”

Scheduling restrictions are certainly a reason, but Jackson thinks he knows another factor.

“It was a lot different than it is today, where guys just don’t have the passion for it like they should,” he says. “We loved each other and our success was because we hung around each other and shared the game of basketball. I guess that’s because there wasn’t that much more to do.”

The team got together a few months ago to plan this weekend’s celebration. It is sure to conjure a lot of memories brought back to life.

“It’s going to be an exciting time,” Jackson says. “I’m happy to be with the guys again and celebrate our basketball heroics from back in the day. It’s going to be great to share the fellowship with the guys.”

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How ‘The Flop’ fascinated a boy, and changed a sport

There was a nine-year-old boy living in the Broadmoor neighborhood of Shreveport who was fascinated with an athletic achievement he had just seen on television. 

So he went outside, put together a makeshift practice area, and tried to copy what he had just seen. And tried. And tried some more. 

This was something different. This wasn’t a center fielder crashing into the wall or a running back bowling over a linebacker. This was something he had never seen at a major sporting event. In fact, almost nobody else had either. 

When you look back on it, this may have been one of the seminal moments in the history of sports. It was a technique that no one had ever done, much less even thought about. And if it was going to be introduced to the world, the nine-year-old boy wanted to be the first to introduce it to grade school Field Day a few months later. 

In the Mexico City Olympics of 1968, Dick Fosbury changed an entire sport with his technique of going over the high jump bar “backward” instead of the established way of the straddle or Western roll. The “Fosbury Flop” resulted in a gold medal and the high jump event has never been the same since. 

Fosbury died last week at age 76 and it received little notice. That’s a shame, because he is one of the few in sports history to completely revolutionize a competition. 

Don’t give me Michael Jordan; there was Julius Erving and Elgin Baylor before him. Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus didn’t revolutionize anything – they just played their sport better than anybody else. There were players hitting home runs before Babe Ruth came along; he just hit more of them. 

Muhammad Ali certainly changed things in boxing, but not everybody immediately started floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee. 

Wilt Chamberlain and Rick Barry shot underhanded free throws, but that hasn’t exactly caught on. 

You might argue Notre Dame’s Gus Dorais and Knute Rockne “invented” the forward pass against Army in 1913, but it had actually been around, though sparingly used, for a while. It’s just that nobody had used it like the Irish did in that game. 

Who else has completely changed the way something was athletically done? 

Somewhere out there, Pete Gogolak probably has his hand up. In 1966, he became the first soccer-style kicker in the NFL, now the universally-accepted way to kick.  

But other than that, it’s not a long list. 

After Fosbury set an Olympic record in Mexico City, far more than half of the competitors in the 1972 Olympics were using that technique.  

Fosbury began using the “flop” because he just couldn’t figure out how to make his body work with the preferred method of the time. He couldn’t even jump five feet in high school, so he began to experiment. It took a couple of years to perfect before it all came together. 

Another reason the Fosbury Flop caught on was because, up until that time, high jump pits weren’t exactly a soft place to land. You try landing on your back on sawdust from seven feet in the air and see how quickly you get back in line. Deep foam matting brought in more possibilities. 

Thankfully, the father of that nine-year-old knew a place where he could get some foam padding. A car repairman friend had some extra back seats that he had ripped out and let him use the padding that was left.

It made for a unique Christmas present – who asks Santa for a high-jump pit? – but after that, it was game on. The boy then set his sights on St. Joseph’s School Field Day 1969. Lo and behold, it paid off.  

And I still have the first-place ribbon to prove it. 

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Nobody wants to hear about your bracket!

NCAA tournament brackets are like the 79 you shot in your latest round or the new car you just bought.

Your friends are happy for you, but no one really wants to hear any details about it.

We are about to enter the “How’s Your Bracket” season and I’m here to tell you that it’s the definition of a rhetorical question. An answer isn’t really necessary.

It’s not like somebody at work will get on the intercom and announce, “Hey everybody, Joe picked all the winners in the second round and is leading in the company bracket pool!”

What’s worse are the television announcers who let us know they have only two of their Final Four picks remaining after the opening weekend. What are we supposed to do? Send you a fruit tray and offer our condolences?

NCAA Tournament brackets seem like scorecard playoffs in golf – somebody else always wins. Someone who is not named you.

There’s no doubt that playing the NCAA bracket is fun and adds excitement to the Creighton-Utah Valley game. But no matter how well you think you are doing, there’s always someone out there who is doing better. What’s worse, they might not even know a basketball from a pumpkin.

I’m about 1-for-20 in bracket pools and I consider myself among the elite because I actually won one. It was 2010 and early in the season, I had seen Cornell go to Allen Fieldhouse and beat Kansas. That nugget landed somewhere in the deep recesses of my brain for a few months, knowing that it would need to be recalled come March.

One night during that same season, I couldn’t sleep so I found myself watching West Coast basketball and thought that St. Mary’s team wasn’t bad.

So when the bracket time came, both were double-digit seeds but I figured they were worth a shot. You know why? Because I didn’t care. I didn’t bother analyzing FanGraphs or KenPom; I realized that I didn’t know any better, so I took the morsel of information I had and went with it.

Not only did I pick Cornell and St. Mary’s to win one game; I picked them to win two. That was enough points to sock away the winner’s prize before the Final Four even started.

But if I were so smart, how come I haven’t even sniffed a title since? When I won the cash in 2010, I figured I was playing with house money for the next eight years. The house money ran out five years ago, proving that I am just like the rest of y’all.

A loser.

This year, they are claiming that there are 20 teams that can win the championship, but history does not bear that out.  Despite all of this talk about “Madness,” the tournament has been won by a No. 1 seed the last five times it’s been played. Overall, a No. 1 has won it 65 percent of the time, so you really don’t have to go fishing in a very deep pond to find a winner.

But the actual Final Four isn’t where the fun is. No, that comes when some guy from Northern Iowa with a last name so long it takes two jerseys to fit all the letters on it beats No. 1-seeded Kansas in the second round (that also happened in 2010). Unless you are related to Ali Farokhmanesh, you would have no reason to think that was possible.

So close your eyes.

Or throw a dart.

Or decide which mascot name would beat up the other mascot name in a fight. (That would rule out the Centenary Gentlemen if they were Division I.)

Choose however you’d like, because it doesn’t matter.

And whatever you do, keep it to yourself. 

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Apparently, finishing the Tech game didn’t mean enough for Ole Miss

The SEC slogan of “it just means more” apparently has taken on new meaning for the Ole Miss baseball program.

It didn’t mean enough to find a way to finish a game that Louisiana Tech was winning 5-4 in the top of the seventh inning before it was called after a weather delay and the score reverted back to the previous inning. And wouldn’t you know it? Ole Miss was winning 4-3 after the sixth. So yes, Tech lost a game in which it scored more runs than the Rebels.

It didn’t mean enough to start the game early enough to get far ahead of the predicted bad weather. Something about how it would be unfair to the Ole Miss ticket holders to move the start time up more than an hour.

It didn’t mean enough to bring out the tarp when the delay started, so as to give the game a better chance to be completed.

What it does appear is that it meant more for Ole Miss to not lose two games to Louisiana Tech.

It meant more for Ole Miss to protect the integrity of its future mid-week schedule of opponents – Jacksonville State, Alcorn State, and Arkansas Pine Bluff – than to find a way to complete the Tech game. Even though the Bulldogs offered to come over on their own dime and finish it off. Just in the month of March, there are three dates that would obviously work for both teams (even more if you don’t allow for a travel day if one of the teams is going out of town).

But let’s go back to two years ago, when Tech hammered Ole Miss 13-1 in Ruston. As for the scheduled game the next day? It meant more for Ole Miss, ranked No. 4 at the time, to come up with the good ol’ we-got-Covid excuse than to actually play the second game. So they bolted back to Oxford. Two days later, the Covid-ravaged Rebels miraculously got well enough to sweep a three-game series against Auburn.

Ole Miss offered a lot of excuses as to why what happened Wednesday in Oxford couldn’t be helped and all of them are flimsy. But the Rebels do have one thing going for them – it’s a rule.

And has been for years.

Years ago, when Billy Tubbs was the basketball coach at Oklahoma, he was asked why he backed out of coming to Ruston to play the opening game at the Thomas Assembly Center.

“Because I don’t have to,” he said.

That’s basically the same message the Rebels (metaphorically) sent to Tech: We are Ole Miss.

You’re not. 

We don’t have to.

Obviously, having a chance to win two games on the road against the defending national champions and No. 4-ranked team would be a potential season-maker for Tech. A tainted win by Ole Miss over the Bulldogs probably isn’t going to be a difference maker for the Rebels’ post-season chances.

Remember, this is a Tech program that hosted an NCAA regional two years ago. The Bulldogs are a legit Group of Five power, but those teams need as many check marks as they can get when it comes to the post-season. Maybe it makes the difference in a seed number. Or maybe hosting another regional.

To be sure, it would be best if you didn’t hold your breath waiting for another Tech-Ole Miss game. Tech felt compelled to put out a news release giving its side of the story, but it’s not going to change anything.

And the first two words from the Ole Miss Twitter account after the game? “That’s baseball!”

Can we be a little more smug?

It’s not as if Tech coach Lane Burroughs fell off the turnip truck last night. He knew the rule as well as anybody as the game was playing out under threatening conditions. He’d be the first to say “that’s baseball” if there weren’t obvious signs of some chicanery going on. Plus, it doesn’t help that Burroughs is a Mississippi native.

Yep, for Burroughs, it would have meant more. 

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Lighten up! It’s just a golf thing

Far be it from me to be considered a defender of Tiger Woods, but sometimes you have to stand up for a guy when he’s catching grief from people who are in serious need of getting a life.

Just so you know where I stand, I was no fan of Woods when he started scorching the golf world in his 20s and 30s. It wasn’t so much him as it was the world around him. He seemed more like a corporate creation and even more bothersome, at least to me, was the media’s fawning of him.

Now in his 40s, Woods seems much more Regular Dude and I’ve found that to be somewhat appealing. You got to admit, the guy has had a lot to deal with.

But this is something he shouldn’t have to deal with.

Last week at the Genesis Open – his first PGA event back after a prolonged absence – Woods was playing with Justin Thomas, a good friend on the Tour, in the first round.

When Woods, 47, outdrove the 29-year-old Thomas on a hole, he casually walked down the fairway with Thomas and slipped something into his hands. Thomas looked down to see what it was, gave it a smirk, and continued on. (Almost) nobody noticed it.

But a photographer got a picture of the exchange, zoomed in on the photo and discovered – gasp! – it was a tampon.

Look, I don’t need to translate it for you. It’s pretty obvious what was at play here and, I might add, somewhat creative. I mean, it’s not like Woods just happened to have said item in his golf bag. The pre-meditation of it is part of the beauty.

Social media blew up over it and people who just don’t get it lined up to take their shots. Woods was forced coached coerced into giving an apology “to anyone who was offended.” (Which is very much code for, “I really don’t mean it, but it’s what I’m supposed to say to get you morons off my back.”)

Say whatever you want about the whole thing, but there is one indisputable fact at play here – it’s what guys do. And particularly in golf, which is fertile ground.

Christine Brennan of USA Today predictably weighed in. (“He employed basic misogyny to insult his good friend Thomas, a knee-slapper of a dig against female athletes: You hit the ball like a girl!”)

The Athletic found Sarina Wiegman, a female English soccer coach who nobody has ever heard of, and did an entire story on how she was offended. (“Very inappropriate.”)

So let me speak for an entire gender when I say this: You’re offended? Well how about this – I’m offended that you’re offended.

So there.

But, hey, maybe I’m missing something here. So I checked in with two golfers who might not think the same way I do. You know, just in case my inner misogynist was taking over.

Shreveport’s Meredith Duncan has played on the LPGA Tour and is a former winner of the U.S. Women’s Amateur. Sandra Smith is the former president of the Louisiana Women’s Golf Association, a two-time winner of the LWGA Fourball tournament and a recent board member of the Louisiana Golf Association.

Let’s hear from them!

Duncan: “I thought it was really funny. As a woman I wasn’t offended at all. I don’t understand the big deal, really. It was a funny ribbing between two friends.”

Smith: “Although I thought Tiger’s passing off a tampon to JT was kinda dumb, I certainly wasn’t offended by it. I took it for what it was … a prank gone bad and caught on video. I shudder to think of all the dumb things my girlfriends and I have done through the years … fortunately most of them happened before social media reared its oft-times ugly head.”

So it’s not just what guys do. It’s what golfers do.

“We need to lighten up,” Smith said, “and quit being so damn sensitive.”

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Sigh… LSU court’s name goes on trial

Whenever you go to a basketball arena, do you ever notice if or who the court is named for? Better yet, do you ever care? Didn’t think so.

Which makes this whole Dale Brown/Sue Gunter thing at LSU equal parts typical, laughable, and, of course, political. (After all, this is Louisiana.)

A year ago, the LSU Board of Supervisors voted to name the court at the Maravich Assembly Center in honor of Dale Brown, longtime LSU men’s coach. They trotted out Dale and his supporters for the ceremony and the whole nine yards.

But then, the wind started blowing and a movement began to add Sue Gunter, the longtime women’s basketball coach (who passed away 15 years ago) to the floor naming. Last week, a new vote was taken and was approved.

Insert uproar here.

If it is your inclination to say “who cares,” you certainly have my permission. To me, there is only one person in the history of LSU athletics who has reached the level of greatness that should merit a naming opportunity. Take a bow, Skip Bertman. You take a program that few even knew existed and then win five College World Series titles? Now that’s where the standard ought to be.

That’s it. That’s the list.

What has been truly amazing is to see how polarizing the basketball court has become. And don’t let anybody try to tell you differently; there were plenty of folks who would tell you that it shouldn’t have been named for Brown in the first place.

But we all know that we live in a world where the standards have been lowered. Harold Baines, who was a .289 career hitter, never led the league in anything and was never higher than ninth in MVP voting, is in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

For some reason, people feel compelled to put up statues at sports arenas for coaches and athletes who are no one’s idea of legendary.

Now, if you ask who has had the greatest impact on LSU basketball? Then Dale Brown is your guy. He didn’t build LSU basketball out of nowhere – that Maravich kid was pretty good and Bob Pettit would like a word – but yes, he was the dominant force behind LSU’s rise to a new level for an extended period of time.

Plus, Dale was a dominant personality. You always kept your eyes (and TV screens) on him.

But let’s be honest as well: there are plenty of answers from the other side as to why naming the court after him wasn’t standard worthy. Most will point out that he won as many Final Fours as you did. And there are many other reasons that get thrown around.

Let’s see if we can agree on this – if you say that LSU has to name the court after somebody, then Dale Brown is the best choice. (The better question is, do you have to?)

If Sue Gunter were so worthy, then why wasn’t her name brought up originally? You know the answer.

But the furor over this is really something to behold. Just like to point this out: no one is saying Brown’s name was ever going to be taken off the court.

Naming the court at Duke for Mike Krzyzewski? Of course. Tennessee named its after women’s coach Pat Summitt, who won eight more titles than Gunter (8-0). That’s the kind of standard that should be met.

Instead, Lou Henson, who never won any national titles, has not one, but two courts named for him (Illinois and New Mexico State).

We have accepted the Lou Henson standard instead of the Krzyzewski-Summitt standard when it comes to all of this.

So what should LSU do? At first, this idea seemed laughable, but now it seems perfectly in keeping with what this has all come to. Have two decals ready to apply to the court — one for Dale Brown when it’s a men’s game and one for Sue Gunter when it’s a women’s game.

Everybody wins! And we all get orange slices afterward!

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Not every trend trickling down should be embraced in prep sports

Whenever some seismic shift happens in sports at a level above, it always seems to filter down. The 3-point line. The designated hitter. (Sadly) the wave.

Once it starts with the professionals, it will make its way to colleges. And the next stop? High school athletics.

In these times when contracts don’t mean anything in professional sports — Russell Westbrook signed a five-year contract five years ago and is now on his fifth NBA team — neither do scholarships. Don’t like where you are? Then just take off and go somewhere else and play immediately.

Ah, but there is that last bastion of restricted athletic movement – high school sports. If you want to transfer, there’s a price to pay: You have to sit out a year.

To be sure, there are some ways around it – a few of them are actually legal according to the LHSAA handbook – but as a general rule, you’re relegated to not much more than getting to practice with your team and then watching from the sideline while your teammates actually get to play the games.

But with literally thousands of college athletes venturing into the transfer portal and then becoming immediately eligible at another school, you have to wonder if some form of that might be headed to Louisiana.

The argument that was heard for many years in collegiate sports was that the trombone player could leave one school and still be instantly eligible to play in the band at State U. With a backbone deteriorating before everyone’s very eyes, the NCAA threw up its collective hands and gave the “olly olly oxen free” to athletes who wanted to transfer.

But if you think Louisiana’s policy is right in line with other states, think again. More than 30 states have passed open enrollment legislation as, one after another, transfer rules are being relaxed all over the country. State associations exist to try to create a level playing field. That seems to be a never-ending battle, but there’s another battle that’s going to be hard to fight.

Consider this quote from Traci Statler, a professor of sports psychology at California State University-Santa Barbara, who discusses the issue of high school transfer eligibility in her sports philosophy and ethics class: “One of the primary reasons for transferring high schools is that kids are trying to make themselves more marketable to colleges. Student-athletes are less likely to be loyal to the school their older brothers and sisters went to and more likely to be loyal to the school that can get them what they want — a college scholarship.”

And there it is! You just knew if we tried hard enough, we could get there.

In Louisiana, there are a variety of school attendance zones. Some are divided (theoretically) by geography. Some are parish-wide. Some parishes allow Majority-to-Minority transfers, some don’t. And if you really want to get the eligibility party started, throw in the magnet component and watch all the heads start spinning.

Feel free to wonder, if only for a moment, what an open enrollment might look like?

“I think there would be a lot of distrust,” Captain Shreve head football coach Adam Kirby says. “You’d have to wonder if high school coaches would turn into recruiters. It would put pressure on high school coaches from outside sources to go and find those players. And if you are going to do that, you might as well be a college coach. Part of the reason I enjoy being a high school coach is the purity of the sport. I think it would push high school coaches out the door.”

Kirby has been a head coach for one year, but Glenn Maynor, who has been Haughton’s baseball coach for 29 years, feels the same way. Maynor will be the first to tell you that he’s benefitted from having transfers in his program – “we’ve had some dang good players transfer in,” he says — but he has also lost a few as well.

“I’d definitely prefer it stay the way it is,” Maynor says. “I like the idea of having your own community. I stopped worrying about losing kids a long time ago. If we are running a good program and winning some games, we might lose a few players and we might get some.”

Who would benefit? Some say private schools. Others say it’s more of who it would hurt because of the Darwinian Theory that only the strong would survive. Some schools are challenged enough already to get kids to play in many sports.

“And it would change how you coach,” Maynor says. “If you get on a kid and need to discipline him, he might just take off and go somewhere else.”

“I think this would be a Pandora’s Box,” Kirby says, “that you could never close.” 

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The World According to JJ (non-sports edition) …

I love East Texas. I love all of that small town, Big Texas feel it has to it. The piney woods, the football stadium lights, the billboards just outside of town to let you know there was a girls golf championship won at the high school 43 years ago. I’d move there, but there’s no way they’d let me in for one simple reason.

I don’t drive a truck.

But last week on a trip with the fiancé through area code 903, I suggested a stop for lunch at a non-franchise location somewhat off the beaten path. You know, to get that true East Texas feel. Swiped through a few suggestions on the phone and found what I was looking for, five miles off the interstate in a town that had never been anything other than an exit sign.

The establishment had a down-home sounding name and, more importantly, got four stars! (I still think that whole rating system is rigged.)

Exit ramp, here we come!

And there it was, complete with a pole-position parking place as if they were waiting for us city folk to drop in and stay a spell. We chuckled at the “No Shirts, No Shoes, No Service” sign on the door as a kind of folksy quasi-Welcome sign.

Little did we know.

“Come on in and seat yourself” said the nice lady as we walked in, as if I had sent her the script in advance.

Did notice a strange smell as we scoured for a place to sit, but I was more focused on how every single person in the place was straight out of central casting. Lots of hats and flannel shirts.

Cream gravy as far as the eye could see. The tables were a little cramped and it was one of those two-part restaurants with overflow seating in the back section.

So we made our way to the back section and there it was. And when I tell you couldn’t believe it, I mean exactly that. That smell I had a hint of when we walked in had now come into clear, olfactory focus.

The guy at the center table was burning one. Marlboro Man. Nicotine City. He hadn’t yet put his cigarette out in the mashed potatoes, but I can promise you that was next on the agenda.

But we didn’t stick around to find out. Actually, we did return to the front section, sat down for maybe 14 seconds, realized that we had somehow been transported back to 1989, when humans did this sort of thing, and got out of there.

We sat in the car for about five minutes, just trying to fully comprehend what we had just seen. Were there authorities we were supposed to call? Was there some kind of Yelp review we were morally obligated to post?

To be honest, the two Louisianans had just received far more attention than the guy literally smoking in the restaurant. And then I found out why.

Texas has no law against smoking in restaurants. Some cities have enacted a policy, but not the state. Actually, you can’t smoke at a Texas school, in a museum, a library, a theater or a hospital. But in a crowded, poorly-ventilated restaurant along the side of a country road? Come on and gitcha sum!

We got our lungs out of there and hopped back on the interstate in search of a lunch free of carcinogens. Probably would have even settled for a place that allowed shirtless or shoeless people.

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TV football analysts slam dunk hoops guys

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been on the shelf and unable to function as a normal, semi-productive member of society.

This has forced allowed me to watch a lot of sporting events during that time, of which there is no shortage of inventory. (I am also fortunate to have DVRed 169 episodes of Mannix, so I’ve got you covered on that front also.)

Lots of basketball, pro and college. Plenty of high interest football as well.

And what has really struck me is the difference in the way these two sports are analyzed during a game.

Look, I’m no expert on sports television broadcasting. I’m just like you – the only qualification is that I watch a lot of it. Just because I listen to music doesn’t mean I know how to play the guitar.

Also just like you, certain announcers drive me crazy for reasons that really don’t have to be logical (see “Raftery, Bill” at the beginning of any college basketball game he calls.)

But I’ve been thinking about this for a while and it has really started to become obvious during my infirmed state: It’s really amazing what football analysts are able to do. And especially when compared to basketball analysts.

I get it … part of it is the nature of the sport. In basketball, you better be quick because the next play has already started. Football has a built-in 30 seconds or so for an explanation.

But I also know you are talking about a sport that has 22 players to account for instead of 10 and a playing surface 12 times as big. And yet these color analysts do it relatively easily and on time fast enough to get ready for the next play.

Yes, they have immediate access to a replay before the previous play is almost over. Still, this is more than just “that looks like pass interference.” They see the game through the quarterback’s eyes, the linebacker’s eyes and the deep snapper’s eyes.

Why did the receiver run that route, making an adjustment after the play had already begun?

How did the linebacker know what the pre-snap read needed to be?

What was the intention to use that kind of motion and did it serve its purpose?

But the one that gets me the most is with blocking schemes. It’s as if they are able to look at all the run or pass-protection techniques of every offensive lineman and instantly know why it made the play work (or didn’t).

San Francisco’s Christian McCaffrey had barely even dropped the ball in the end zone when Fox analyst Greg Olsen was telling me to watch how 49er offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey was able to use an effective blocking move on two defenders to free up the touchdown run.

You and I are such simpletons that we just watch the ball and figure that’s all we need to know. 

NBC’s Cris Collinsworth may have a rather annoying voice, but his attention to detail is spot on. Say what you want about ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit, but he always seems to nail it on important plays.

I watched a great college basketball game last weekend – two Top 15 teams – and all I got was jargon from the analysts. “That’s a yo-yo!” was one of my favorites, offered without explanation. Or it’s an endless supply of over-talking – “dribble drive” or “screen the screener” or “they ran a high-low to run a scissor off a back cut to get a big open for a shot in the short corner.”

In other words, someone tall made a 3-pointer.

But this is really all about the praise for these football guys who know what to look for, explain what they see and have a bow on it all within 30 seconds.

I’d still be trying to figure out the number of the guy who caught the ball.

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High school shot clock: Is it time?

ANTI-STALL BALL:  Venerable Huntington boys basketball coach Mack Jones is among local coaches who hope the LHSAA will implement a shot clock soon. (Photo by JOHN PENROD, Journal Sports)


Perhaps no other sport has gone through the evolutionary process quite like basketball. Many years ago, you couldn’t dunk in college or high school. The lane has been widened on a number of occasions. The implementation of the 3-point shot was revolutionary in ways that many did not expect.

Those changes subsequently brought about changes at other levels of the sport. It took about a decade, but college basketball soon followed the NBA with its version of the 3-point line. It didn’t take long for high school to do the same.

But go to a high school basketball game and there’s one thing you won’t see that is present at every other level – a shot clock.

“I think we need to implement it soon,” Huntington boys basketball coach Mack Jones says. “But I don’t know when it will happen.”

Jones isn’t alone in being pro-shot clock. Local coaches would be in favor of it, but it would come at a price. Literally.

“Even though the other night we stalled a little bit against Parkway, I would definitely love to see it,” says Benton girls coach Mary Ward, now in her 20th year as a head coach. “I think it would speed the pace of the game up and be more strategic. But the logistics of it all would be so tough for high school athletics.”

Different high school programs operate in different ways, but the added expense would be tough to take on. It can already be tough to get by with paying three referees, two security guards and other costs before the ball even gets tipped off.

You’d basically have to add a fourth official to that expense because operating a shot clock isn’t as simple as just hitting the reset button. And if you think that would be a tough cost for a Class 5A school to absorb, think about what it would mean for Class B and C schools.

“It’s hard enough to find someone to run the clock and keep the (score) book,” Ward says. “Getting someone to do the shot clock would be even tougher.”

On several occasions, the LHSAA membership has considered adopting the shot clock, but it has never gone much further than just an idea. A statewide shortage of officials is also a contributing factor.

“It would cost a little bit, but I think it would be worth it,” Jones says. “It just makes the game faster and more exciting. Plus you are preparing the kids for next-level basketball.”

In 1979, North Carolina held the ball for almost the entire first half against Duke (the Tar Heels didn’t take a shot for the first 12 minutes) and trailed 7-0 at halftime.

Loyola boys basketball coach Ben Schonfarber thinks there might be teams with an advantage if there were a shot clock, but you wouldn’t see an all-out stall.

“I think it would be beneficial overall, but I think it would be more beneficial to the better teams,” says Schonfarber, who is in his seventh year. “But if it’s a 30- or 35-second shot clock, I don’t know how much that speeds the game up because most teams don’t really sit on the ball these days.”

The shot clock is actually already used in some locations in the country and in AAU play. But that’s not the only reason Jones would like to see it. “I just think we need to try to make it as close to what it is in college as possible,” he says.

Jones is in his 33rd year as a head coach and has seen the game evolve during that time. He says the threat of a team taking the air out of the ball isn’t as likely. “When I first got into it, more coaches were running the four-corner (offense) because they had only one kid who could handle the ball,” he says. “With AAU ball now, all of them can handle it so you probably don’t see that as much anymore.”

Finances aside, coaches believe the biggest difference if a shot clock were in place would come in the last two minutes, not the first 30.

“When you get under two minutes, you need to have conversations with the players about when we want to shoot,” Schonfarber says. “Do we want to bleed the clock or do we want to take an open shot if we get it?”

“Strategies would come down to trying to use the shot clock to your advantage,” Jones says. “Say you are down by five with two minutes left. With a shot clock, you’d still have a good chance by just playing good defense.” 

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Tigers tailing off as reality arrives with top-half SEC opponents

At one point this season, the LSU men’s basketball team was 12-1. There were warning signs going off all over the place at the time, but it was hard to recognize when you are blinded by the 12 and the 1.

Since then, the Tigers are 0-5 and those trouble signs have become too obvious to ignore. So let’s get on-the-court issues out of the way and then try to figure out how we got here.

And you don’t have far to look to find the biggest of all – the Tigers can’t shoot. Ever since James Naismith tacked up the peach basket at the Springfield YMCA, that’s kinda been what basketball has been all about. Put the ball in the basket more times than the other guys and you win.

LSU’s guards don’t shoot well from the outside, which might be OK if they could finish at the rim. But they can’t do that either. As a team, the Tigers are 11th in both scoring and field goal percentage.

Not that blocks are the greatest indicator of defensive efficiency, but they are second-to-last in the conference. They are also 12th in rebounding.

But remember – these stats are for ALL games, not just the conference ones. Those would tell a much more definitive tale of the misery that LSU is now experiencing.

Which is also what the fan base is experiencing. They can claim otherwise all they want, but when every sport is good, men’s basketball is the No. 2 sport in LSU athletics. Not gymnastics. Not women’s basketball. Not … hold on here … baseball.

The reason some might laugh at that is because LSU baseball has had an extended period of success at a high level. That’s a sure-fire way to raise and keep the interest level.

But on the occasional times men’s basketball has risen to those heights – if only for a season or two – it’s been obvious how it can hold its place. It’s much easier to puff your chest out when your school’s teams are successful in a sport that is recognized nationally for four months instead of four weeks.

Everyone loves a winner – that’s not indigenous to Baton Rouge – but the hot start was fool’s gold. The non-conference wins were against one of the worst schedules in the country. When you post big numbers on the left side of the hyphen, fans buy in.

And maybe that’s why the schedule was made that way. Basketball schedules aren’t made like football. In football, you already know some of the opponents you’ll play 10 years from now. Basketball is basically year-to-year, but even that can change as late as mid-summer.

So the Tigers, under new coach Matt McMahon, had two choices: Play Cupcake City and build up fan excitement AND player confidence or take on some of the Big Boys. In the old days, almost every big school played a creampuff schedule and then got ready for conference.

Perhaps these days, it’s driven by TV inventory, but it’s not that way anymore. Some of the biggest names in college basketball play each other in November and December. There are lots of reasons for it, but it does give a coach a chance to see what he’s got and what it will take.

McMahon didn’t know what he had because literally everyone left before he got there (three returned from the portal). The Top 5 recruiting class that was coming to LSU completely disappeared to other schools. So it made sense to play North Carolina Central instead of North Carolina, Texas-Arlington instead of Texas and Kansas City instead of Kansas.

LSU should have beaten a Top 25 Kansas State team in a November tournament but a questionable official’s call took that chance away. The Tigers did beat Wake Forest, who has turned out to be pretty good (currently tied for second in the ACC).

But the SEC did LSU no favors in its schedule-making. Of the bottom five teams in the conference, LSU hasn’t played any of them yet except Arkansas, a team everyone thought was good but has seen its season go south.

The Tigers were always going to be a lower-third SEC team. It’s just taken a while to find that out.

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College quarterback predictions not worth a dime these days

There aren’t many things that are a bigger waste of time than predicting anything in college football, but much less when it comes to the future of a team’s quarterback position.

Five seconds after Walker Howard announced he was leaving LSU and heading to the transfer portal, seemingly credible and well-minded journalists had the next four years lined up as to who would be the Tigers’ starter — and what the rest of the quarterback “room” was going to look like — in each of the next few years.

(And before we go any further, can we discuss how stupid this whole “room” thing is in college football? Are we trying to sound a bit too football savvy for our own good? Is there a long snapper’s room?)

Tell you what, I’ll take any and all action you want on how the LSU quarterback progression is going to unfold through 2025. You predict it; I’ll starting drawing up plans for an addition to my house.

The No. 1 quarterback recruit for next year has already changed his mind. Florida has a quarterback signee who reportedly wants to back out because he doesn’t like his NIL deal.

So you’re going to tell me you have it all figured out on how it’s going to go down in Baton Rouge for next year and the year after that and a year after that?

Good luck … we’re all counting on you.

One of the biggest pearls of wisdom I’ve heard lately is that only a fool tries to predict a starting college quarterback for more than one season in advance. And even that’s a little iffy.

LSU coach Brian Kelly tried to put the kibosh on 2023 speculation by announcing after the Cheez-It Bowl — by the way, I think the Tigers just scored again — that there was no quarterback controversy for next year. It’s Jayden Daniels. Next question.

That left many to start fitting puzzle pieces together, which seem to suggest that the “room” wasn’t big enough for No. 2 QB Garrett Nussmeier or Howard, a redshirt freshman who was heralded when he signed as the next great thing.

And now Howard is gone. Well, at least we still have that cringe-worthy video tweet with Kelly awkwardly dancing while Howard holds up the “L” sign with his fingers, which apparently now stands for “Leaving.”

It’s really simple here, people. You don’t know. Coaches don’t know. Nobody knows.

So you can throw names like Rickie Collins and Colin Hurley around if you like, but they might as well be Joan Collins or Colin Powell when it comes to being the future of LSU quarterbacking.

Joe Montana was famously Notre Dame’s seventh-string quarterback in 1974, behind such luminaries as Frank Allocco and Rick Slager. Three years later, he won the national championship. You think that was in the plan?

Good thing Nick Saban didn’t follow the natural order of progression in 2016. Either Cooper Bateman or Blake Barnett was supposed to be the quarterback for the Crimson Tide that year. But Saban decided to give that freshman a shot and Jalen Hurts took them to the national championship.

The recruiting template says that you should try to sign a quarterback every year. Even before the portal came to be, that assumes (1) all of them are good enough to start and (2) all are happy with being a starter for ONE year for good ol’ State U.

Not much of a revelation here, but times have changed. Yes, but given the choice, Kelly would much rather have Walker Howard than not have Walker Howard. But he can’t possibly have been surprised by the news.

The old saying is that if you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans. He’d probably also get a kick out of it if you’d tell him about that starting quarterback roadmap which you’ve got all figured out.

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Beauty of what bowl games mean is in the eye of the TV beholder

There is still one college football game to be played this year but there are no more bowl games. I know that all too well, because I’m still having withdrawal pains because of it.

What happens in the CFP championship game will have a lasting impact for years to come and that’s fine. It has no “bowl” designation, unlike the semifinals, which were disguised as bowl games.

I love bowl season. It’s right up there with the intersection of the Final Four/MLB Opening Day/Masters, only that happens during the spring and the weather is nice and you don’t feel locked to your 65-inch Smart TV. I want every day during bowl season to be 38 degrees and rainy; zero reason to go outside to even get the mail.

People complain that there are too many bowl games. Or that they are “meaningless games.”

I beg to differ.

Though I’m not a fan of a team with a losing record getting a bowl invite so that they have an even more losing-er record – take a bow, 5-and-8 Rice – but otherwise, as long as you can find a way to get the game, you’re invited.

One caveat – the worse your record, the earlier in the day you have to play. I actually found myself longing for an 8 a.m. game a couple of times during the last week in December. You mean I have to wait until 11 o’clock?

As for the “meaningless games” concept, that depends on how you want to look at it. In its glorious eight-year history, has the Bahamas Bowl really lost its meaning? Of course not! In fact, the first Bahamas Bowl, which I watched (of course), had one of the greatest endings to a game I’ve ever seen. (Look it up.)

I read a description about these games that puts it perfectly: “These aren’t meaningless games. They are games with less meaning.”

Yes, all bowl games are not created equally, whether it’s because of the growing separation between the tiers of games or because of players “opting out.”

But no matter what degree of “meaning,” this may have been one the greatest runs of great games in a bowl season that we have seen.

* Both of the semifinal games were great, which has never happened.

* Tulane’s win over USC was incredible.

* How often do you see a game like the Liberty Bowl (Arkansas in 2 OTs, 55-53 over Kansas)?

* Mississippi State won one for their deceased coach Mike Leach … and for those who bet on the Bulldogs … with an ultimate Bad-Beat victory over Illinois.

* Notre Dame came back from two touchdowns behind – and gave up two Pick-6s – to beat South Carolina.

* With the game tied and only seconds remaining, Oregon’s kicker doinked one against the upright but somehow it bounced through to beat North Carolina.

All told, 12 games were decided by a field goal or less. A bunch more came down to the last possession.

Opt-outs are a divisive issue, but they aren’t going away any time soon. Sure, we all want our school to be at full strength instead of looking like Purdue’s intramural team. And did you notice that it became a news story when Alabama’s Bryce Young and Will Anderson opted in?

You constantly hear that some of these players skipping bowl games are doing so “to get ready for the NFL Draft,” even though they will be lucky to go in the seventh round.

And then there are those like Notre Dame tight end Michael Mayer, who is likely a first-round choice. Interviewed on the sideline during the Gator Bowl, in which he chose not to play, he was asked what he had been doing since the end of the regular season.

Basically he said he hadn’t been doing much of anything, just taking it easy and hanging with his family and friends. So that’s what it takes to get ready for the draft? That gets you more NFL ready than actually playing in, you know, a football game?

Interesting that a couple of hours later, the winning touchdown pass was caught by Mayer’s backup. A guy who actually wanted to play in that game, no matter how much meaning there was. 

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What we’d like to see in ’23


After sharing what we expect to see in ’23 in Wednesday’s edition, your Shreveport-Bossier Journal team is back today with what we’d like to see this year. Before Christmas, ideally. 

LOCALLY, ladies tees at Querbes, please. It would be easy – just get the red balls out of the equipment shack and put them back out on the golf course. Just think, the ladies’ leagues may start playing there again.

In PREP sportsNO high school football games affected by bad weather (as in delayed, postponed or cancelled). Oh, and I’d love to see them start at 6:30.

In COLLEGE sports, a full stadium at the Radiance Technologies Independence Bowl. The staff does such an amazing job putting on a great event year-in and year-out that the stands should be full (and I’d like to see more stadiums full during all college bowl games).

In the PROS, see the NFL change its overtime rules (it’s ridiculous that a team can win the game in OT without the other team having a possession) and NO games end in a tie (this is football, not futbol).

  • Harriet Prothro Penrod

In HIGH SCHOOLSfootball players wearing regular pants not cut off above the knee.

In COLLEGES, Bossier Parish Community College’s softball team make it to the NJCAA national tournament and win.

In the PROS, MLB batters that don’t step out of the box after EVERY pitch.

  • Lee Hiller

In PREPS, the football hydration rule during games adjusted to go by temperature, not time. If it’s a rare cool September night, keep playing; no break.

In COLLEGE, baseball teams stop using walk-up music. Please please please make it stop. Think about what homeboy is about to throw you and not about whether or not fans like your song. Walk-up music is embarrassing for everybody. Hit a home run? Drive in a run? Stand-up triple? Take an extra base? OK — NOW you can have music. But not just for making it from the dugout to the plate.

In PROS, every team in the NFL to finish the regular season 8-8-1. Yay for parity! So awesome. (Yawn … )

  • Teddy Allen

In COLLEGES, Northwestern State football returning to its winning ways — which hasn’t happened since 2008. Good, hard-working people who deserve success.

LOCALLY, Shreveport hosting more mainstream sporting events to enhance our quality of life. Cornhole and dart-throwing tournaments don’t do it for me.

In the PROS, Louisiana Downs promote more horse racing and less bounce houses and outdoor concerts in 100-degree heat.

  • Tony Taglavore

In PREPS, an All-District team that actually has some merit to it.

In COLLEGE, coaches to stop putting up the stupid screens on the sidelines so they can act like the second coming of Bear Bryant who, by the way, never put up a screen and hardly ever wore a headset.

LOCALLY, something actually comes from the bizarre minor league baseball stadium announcement that was made in October. Just throw us a bone.

In the PROS, the Saints hire Sean Payton back and bring Tom Brady with him.

  • John James Marshall

I covered many wishes in my Tuesday Journal column, but let’s get greedy and ask for more.

In PREPS, recognizing the big-time calls for a big box. Northwood provides one of the best game-day atmospheres in the area and the Falcons are dang good, too – they had one of the best post-season runs of any team. The press box screams Class 1A, and it’s not the school’s fault. It’s time for Caddo Parish to give the school and that program a press box it deserves.

In PROS, “Musky” to get Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame love. Scott Muscutt was the first player the Shreveport Mudbugs signed 25 years ago. He’s since won multiple championships as a player, a coach and a general manager. He’s a major reason why hockey has thrived in Northwest Louisiana — the Mudbugs perennially lead their league in attendance — and no job is too small. You are as likely to see a unicorn as to spot “Musky” somewhere other than George’s Pond at Hirsch Coliseum.

He cuts the ice, replaces glass, cleans the aisles – and does whatever it takes to make this community a better place. He’s also helped establish healthy youth hockey and high school hockey programs.

The Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame honors the best of the best. It’s time to bring this man into the discussion for future, but hopefully not way-down-the-road enshrinement. Hockey in Louisiana’s Hall may sound strange, but this is a no-brainer.

  • Roy Lang III 

In PREPS, more high school coaches organizing clinics on their own — like Green Oaks’ Chad Lewis, with the help of his friend, North DeSoto’s Christopher Wilson, did over the holidays. It started with a post on Facebook and ended up with a full-fledged clinic at the Hamilton Branch of the Shreve Memorial Library. Kudos to Lewis and Wilson for spearheading that effort.

I’d like to see our school districts in Northwest Louisiana catch up to school systems in Northeast Louisiana. Strength and conditioning coaches working at every school, tasked with the athletic development of all teams. It’s overdue to see certified athletic trainers on each campus, who teach in the classroom and look for young people who want to go into that vital field.

I’d like to see us identify high school athletes who demonstrate an ambition of going into the coaching profession. Lewis and Wilson were once student-athletes at Byrd High School. Why can’t we “grow our own” next generation of outstanding coaches in this area? Let’s give them a head start by mentoring them right now.

  • Jerry Byrd Jr.

In PREPS, at the coin flip before kickoff, along with the team captains, bring out a couple seniors from the band, cheerleaders, dance line, and National Honor Society, and a teacher. Efficiently and sufficiently recognize all of them on the PA system, not as an afterthought at halftime, but when the energy level in the stadium is peaking. Celebrate their efforts and realize they are representative of their peers.

In COLLEGES, home-and-home competition in every sport between our four nearby Division I schools. I’ll grant that Tech and ULM aren’t playing football at Grambling or NSU, or against them at the I-Bowl. It’s absurd the Bulldogs and Warhawks don’t square off annually, and also host the Tigers or Demons. Common sense. Uncommon gate receipts.

LOCALLY, more neighborhood pick-up games. Less travel ball. Didn’t we find ways to play, no charge, instead of adults organizing everything – and then soiling too much of it with egos and selfishness? The best homefield is at home, somebody’s home, in a yard or driveway or even the street. Somebody’s mom will make lemonade after the game.

  • Doug Ireland

What we expect to see in ’23

Your Shreveport-Bossier Journal crew humbly offers our predictions for the 2023 sports year. Ladies first.

In PREPS, the Calvary Lady Cavs softball team goes BACK2BACK2BACK (winning a third straight Division IV state championship).

In COLLEGES, the Louisiana Tech baseball team makes the College World Series.

In the PROS, Sam Burns wins his first major (after his 2022 season, this is bound to happen sooner than later).

  • Harriet Prothro Penrod

In PREPS, improvements to continue at Lee Hedges Stadium with the construction of new locker rooms and training rooms along with a new press box.

In COLLEGESanother successful year for LSU and Tulane in football.

In the PROS, new rules making a difference in how we watch MLB games. 

  • Lee Hiller

In PREPS, a student-athlete makes more than his working parents off an NIL deal.

In COLLEGE, I’ll be keeping up with Centenary Football and caring about recruiting news for the first and only time in my feeble life. In the autumn of 2024, Centenary takes the football field for the first time since 1941. Ninety years ago this past fall, Centenary was 8-0-1. 1932. You could look it up. Nationally, the Gents were in the top 25 in per-game scoring average at 20 a game and had the fifth-stingiest defense in ’Murica; Centenary gave up just 26 points all season. Centenary was 8-0-4 in 1933, when playing for the tie must have been an “in” thing. In 1934, which will be 90 years removed from Centenary’s 2024 re-boot, Centenary was a salty 10-2.

In the PROS, Jake from State Farm will be on every commercial of every NFL, NBA, and MLB game. (Thankfully, I like Jake from State Farm.)

  • Teddy Allen

In COLLEGES, LSU once again will contend for the SEC Championship — and will knock on the door of the College Football Playoff. They will do so without QB Garrett Nussmeier, who surely will transfer.

In the PROS, the Saints and Cowboys replace their head coaches. Dennis Allen is in over his head, and Mike McCarthy has the talent to get to the NFC Championship Game — but won’t.

LOCALLY, Louisiana Downs will continue to promote less horse racing and more bounce houses and outdoor concerts in 100-degree heat.

  • Tony Taglavore

In PREPS, sadly, the quality of high school athletics continues to drop. Football coaches almost have to beg kids to play and if you watch any other sport, you quickly realize that the talent level simply isn’t as good as it was 5 or 10 years ago.

In COLLEGES, we’ll see a slight move toward normalcy in NIL. It’s not going away, but it’s also a two-way street. Somebody has to finance that and these people aren’t in it to watch Jimmy SuperStud (a.) think about transferring, because he can (b.) complain that his deal isn’t as good as the guy playing next to him (c.) start mailing it in around if he’s not getting the ball enough.

In PROS/LOCAL, what’s left of Fair Grounds Field will still be standing. The Independence Bowl will be played on a sunny, 55-degree day. The laws of probability HAVE to even out at some point.

  • John James Marshall 

In PREPS, some local high school football offenses will “struggle” early. The 2022 season offered ridiculous offensive numbers, or bad defense depending on your view. Expect the defenses to fight back – at least early — in the 2023 campaign.

No fewer than five 1-5A teams will have new quarterbacks, not to mention the expected changes at other local schools. In theory this would lead to gray hair on the top of some OC’s heads, at least while the new signal-callers get their feet wet.

Also in PREPS, here’s a “stat nerd” alert. A change could be coming to one of the dumbest rules in high school football. Unlike the NFL and college football, a holding penalty behind the line of scrimmage in high school is marked from the spot of the foul. Currently a first-and-10 could turn into first-and-28 simply with a holding call.

The National Federation of State High School Associations has surveyed coaches regarding a change to move in line with the next levels of football. Bravo.

  • Roy Lang III

In PREPSI expect to see more high-scoring games. The passing offenses were ahead of the passing defenses in 2022, and it wasn’t even close. Northwest Louisiana has had a good run of defensive backs who have made their way to the league. See Tre’Davious White, Morris Claiborne, “Greedy” Williams, and Israel Mukuamu. But there were simply too many great quarterbacks … and too few defensive backs.

While 2022 seemed to be the year of the quarterback, I expect to see 2023 to be the year of the kicker with Byrd’s Abram Murray, who committed last summer to the University of Miami, and Parkway’s Aeron Burrell being two of the best locals to ever put toe to leather.

In COLLEGE, unfortunately, I see local colleges and universities continuing to struggle in the transfer portal/NIL era. I think Louisiana Tech’s Sonny Cumbie and Grambling’s Hue Jackson are the men for the job and great coaches, I just think it’s the most difficult time in history to be a college football coach. There is one exception to this. I expect to see Centenary College — under the direction of former Evangel and LSU standout defensive lineman Byron Dawson — thrive locally, with home-grown talent familiar to local football fans.

In the PROS, in light of Damar Hamlin’s cardiac arrest on Monday Night Football, I expect to see all professional contact sports double down on player safety. For all of those attracted to the violence and entertainment football provides, I expect them to be in for a rude awakening.

  • Jerry Byrd Jr.

In PREPS, scheduling tough intersectional games pays off for the Parkway Lady Panthers, who leave no doubt as they win the girls basketball state championship. Mikaylah Williams IMMEDIATELY joins the LSU roster for March Madness and starts for Kim Mulkey.

In COLLEGES, the men’s basketball rules committee shifts from playing 20-minute halves to four 10-minute quarters, mirroring the women and the pros. Mostly, providing more TV commercial breaks for Teddy’s pal Jake, that guy from State Farm.

LOCALLY, Shreveport’s Tim Brando adds another sport to his vast broadcast resume when he becomes the lead announcer for USA Pickleball on FOX.

  • Doug Ireland

Coming Thursday: What we’d LIKE to see in ’23.

A year in, having a blast sharing ‘all sorts of stories to tell’

When I walked into the Captain Shreve gym on January 11, I knew I was in a place I hadn’t been in a long, long time. No, it wasn’t the gym itself – I’ve seen more than a few games there in the last few years.

This had nothing to do with a physical location. But I was in a professional place – if that’s what you call it – that felt both very strange and very familiar all at the same time.

It was the Captain Shreve-Byrd boys basketball game and I was there to cover it for the Shreveport-Bossier Journal. I hadn’t covered a high school basketball game in almost 30 years, but I quickly came to realize the truth about how, like riding a bicycle, you never forget.

And I knew I was back in a place that I needed much more than it needed me.

The Journal isn’t my main job – in fact, it’s not even my second job – but I grew up professionally as a sports writer. It was a part-time job for me when I was in high school and a summer internship while I was in college, so there was no doubt where I was headed once I found myself in the real world.

I did that for as long as I could (or as long as I could stand it) and moved on to something else, which I dearly love. But covering events like a Tuesday night high school basketball game never really leaves you. (I know … that sounds borderline pathetic.)

It was an otherwise forgettable game – Shreve won by 33 — and I had to explain to both coaches who I was and what I was doing there. But I knew what I was doing there and that it was about to open all sorts of stories to tell.

Such as …

I saw Jaylin Turner come off the bench, grab a bat and hit a pinch-hit, walk off home run in the 10th inning to send LSUS to the NAIA World Series and complete an improbable week-long comeback for the Pilots. (Following the game, I also didn’t see a celebratory water balloon and took one in the onions that literally knocked me to my knees.)

I wrote about the deaths of two people who never met each other and were about as opposite as you could get. Huntington’s Devin Myers, 18, and former Fair Park legend Jimmy Orton, 85, died within a few hours of each other. Their deaths were not similar but there was a bond they shared – athletics.

I was able to turn on the voice recorder and let eight retired coaches tell story after story about their experiences in high school athletics. It was a series that started by accident and one that I could still be doing because of the profound impact they have had on countless lives.

I got a chance to be at Disch-Falk Stadium, home of Texas Longhorns baseball, and witness a capacity crowd start to get a little nervous as Louisiana Tech wouldn’t go away in one of college baseball’s cathedrals.

I wrote about issues like too many players being named to post-season teams or how high school baseball had become too “nice.” Or stupid stuff, like the two-part series about my amazement of the “EAST/WEST” signs at Lee Hedges Stadium, only to see them removed days later.

I was there when things happened. I saw stuff and wrote about it. I got a chance to interact with players and coaches and let them tell me all about what was going to happen or what had happened.

So that’s what 2022 was for me. The Shreveport-Bossier Journal put me back in the sports writing game. To be able to do it with a group of writers such as the one assembled does nothing but make each edition, each group text message, each staff meeting, each staff lunch a total pleasure.

On January 11, I had a feeling that might happen. 

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Breaking News about the Independence Bowl!

Here’s my advice for whichever team wins today’s Radiance Technologies Independence Bowl and is presented with the trophy: Hang on to it.

With both hands.

Here’s my advice for whoever wins one of the Player of the Game awards: If you see a guy wearing a red blazer headed your way in the locker room with a serious look on his face, stuff the award in your equipment bag. If they ask you any questions, borrow the quote from Sgt. Schultz on Hogan’s Heroes – “I know nothing.”

Here’s my advice to this year’s Spirit of Independence winners, Operation Senior Surprise (better known as “Secret Squirrel”) from Barksdale AFB: There’s 57 of y’all; all we need is one of you to carry that baby outta there.

As detailed last week, the Independence Bowl has a unique history of many things … and some of them actually happened on the field.

This will be the 46th of these games, so they’ve pretty much got it running on cruise control when it comes to game operations. But when it comes to trophies? Not so much.

You never know what’s going to happen.

The best of all is the 2011 game, when Missouri was playing North Carolina. The Missouri mascot (Truman the Tiger) either had a little too much of a good time in the pre-game festivities or didn’t realize the dimensions of his cartoonish-length tail, but was posing for a picture and bumped into the trophy before the game even started.


Which could also be said for the North Carolina defense, since Missouri put a 41-spot on the Tar Heels. If ever bowl officials needed one team to win over another, it was this one. The last thing they needed was to try to tell interim UNC coach Everett Withers (there’s some trivia for you!) if Carolina had won, “Well, coach, it’s a funny thing about that trophy … it’s sorta broken. In a few thousand pieces. And it was the Missouri mascot that did it.”

It’s one thing to break Aunt Martha’s crystal stemware at Christmas dinner when you reach for the gravy, it’s another to try to explain broken crystal to a national TV audience.

But that’s not all.

After the game, the trophy that was going to be presented to Offensive MVP James Franklin was, you guessed it, knocked over near the locker room and shattered.


Lee Michaels Fine Jewelers came to the rescue, getting a temporary replacement for the post-game team trophy and then eventually shipping two replacements to Missouri.

The next story has a little bit of urban legend to it, but I was in the locker room when something happened. It had to be in the late 1980s or early ’90s, but I know that one of the MVP trophies was given to the wrong player.

I think it may have been in 1988, when James Henry of Southern Miss was the Defensive MVP and the Offensive MVP.


Henry never even played a snap on offense in that game, but he did return two punts for a touchdown. Seems like bowl officials couldn’t figure out which one he deserved, so they gave him both, but that was after someone had already received one of them.

Or maybe it was another year. But I know somebody had an MVP trophy one minute and then didn’t have it the next.

And speaking of urban legend – and numerous people have told me this is true – there is the case of Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who was the recipient of the Omar Bradley Spirit of Independence Award in 1993.

(Back in the day, the announcement of this award was almost as big as the announcement of the two teams.)

There was the usual pomp and circumstance for Justice O’Connor and all sorts of glad handing for a couple of days while she was in town. And I’m sure she was very appreciative and honored by it all – it’s still listed in her bio – but there was only one problem.

When she left town and went back to Washington D.C., she forgot one thing – the trophy.

At least it didn’t break. 

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Over the years, the I-Bowl has had some interesting stories to tell

I’ve had an interesting relationship with the Independence Bowl over the years. Not many of us can say we were at the first one, but I was – as a high school senior with very little to do on a Monday night with 19,163 of my closest friends.

From that point, I went as a college student to watch my university compete (Louisiana Tech, 1977, 1978) before becoming a disdainful member of the media that couldn’t understand some of the choices that were made by the selection committee – back when the selection committee actually did the selecting.

Then I stood by, somewhat in disbelief, as the bowl began to grow in stature with matchups that seemed impossible to believe only a few years earlier (Georgia-Arkansas, LSU-Notre Dame).

That was followed by years of ignoring the game – I probably couldn’t tell you who played who for at least a 10-year period – and now I’m residing in the land of semi-fired-up-no-matter-who-is-playing.

Houston vs. Louisiana-Lafayette isn’t going to make anyone forget the Texas-USC Rose Bowl for the national championship, but it beats the crap out of some of these johnny-come-lately bowls. Both teams are driving distance away and the local ticket buying public knows enough about them to have a rooting interest.

But what I love the most about the Independence Bowl? As Bill Murray said in the movie Stripes to his platoon mates – “it’s the stories that you tell!”

The Independence Bowl has plenty of them.

In 2010, Air Force played Georgia Tech and Aurora, the falcon mascot, bored by the lack of offense in the 14-7 game, just flew away. Off and up out. They found her slumming with the pigeons downtown.

To borrow a Lou Holtz line, if a mascot were going to escape, then it’s a good thing the LSU Tigers weren’t playing.

I went to the 2007 game strictly to see another mascot when Alabama was playing Colorado. I wanted to see Ralphie, the literal Colorado buffalo, get let out of the cage, run around the field and then get hauled back in.

Ralphie brought her A game that night – that’s right, Ralphie is a female – making the 200-yard run in fine fashion. The trouble for Colorado was that it was Alabama running all over the field when the game started as the Crimson Tide put up a 20-spot in the first quarter.

Good pub, bad pub, doesn’t matter as long as you spell and/or pronounce the name right, correct?


There was also the 2006 game, when a celebrity spokesman for title sponsor PetroSun said on national television that the company was honored to be associated with the “Independent Bowl.”

There was a seemingly never-ending stream of coaches who would bail between the time of being chosen for the bowl and the actual game itself. (Take a bow, Lou Holtz.) To Mack Brown’s credit, he stayed and coached Tulane in ’87 before bolting for North Carolina.

Or in the case of Alabama in 2006, the coach (David Shula) got fired before the Independence Bowl. But interim coach Joe Kines made up for it by giving one of the most classic halftime interviews you’ll ever want to see. YouTube it to find out I’m right.

It’s not exactly the kind of speech that we are used to seeing from the guy who replaced Kines after that game – Nick Saban.

And speaking of Saban, he coached in this game. Twice (1995, 2007). So did Jimmy Johnson (1981). So did Steve Spurrier (2005, 2014). And Hall of Famer Don James of Washington (’87). And Bob Stoops (1999). Plus Frank Beamer (1993, 2015).

All told, seven different coaches who have coached in the Independence Bowl have also won a national championship.

You play a bowl game long enough and stuff is going to happen. But when it comes to trophies and the Independence Bowl, they have retired the … um … trophy.

More on that next week. 

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LSUS’ Blankenship turning blank roster into success story

Check me if I’m wrong, but I don’t seem to recall Mike Krzyzewski ever having to completely rebuild his Duke basketball roster from one year to the next.

Sure, Kentucky loves the one-and-done superstars, but there are still quite a few who are two-and-done. Or four-and-stay.

John Wooden was a great coach at UCLA, but did he ever have to go find an entirely new team while he was winning 10 national championships in 12 years?

Welcome to LSUS basketball coach Kyle Blankenship’s world where, after last season, there was no one living.

“It’s been a challenge,” Blankenship said. “We attacked the recruiting process to try to put together a team that could compete for another conference championship.”

So far, so good.

Now that the Pilots have been together long enough to no longer need to wear name tags to practice, they are off to a 7-2 start.

This has all been a by-product of Covid-19 (big surprise there). College players in all sports are suddenly getting extra years because of the pandemic and it created inequities in rosters. LSUS had six players in 2021-22 who were granted an extra senior season.

At Senior Night last year, LSUS literally did not have enough non-seniors to be part of the ceremony, so everyone had to rotate to help out.

Those few who weren’t seniors either left the program or were asked to leave the program – the Pilots only had seven players at the end of 2021-22 – so this roster adjustment wasn’t much of a shock to Blankenship.

To help ensure he didn’t get in this position again, Blankenship got a mixture of players this year who were granted an extra year, as well as transfers and more high school players – especially in-state ones – than he had in the past.

The best story of all may be the recruitment of Jalen Brooks, who was once a star at Woodlawn, then spent enough time at Southern Arkansas to establish tenure. But this is college sports 2022-style, where no one seems to be out of eligibility until at least a couple of years after you die.

Blankenship has known Brooks since middle school and got a call one day that the 6-foot-5 forward was four-and-done at SAU and wasn’t planning to go back. The LSUS coach immediately began to search Brooks out by phone but had no luck. (Someone under the age of 30 actually turns their phone off?)

So Blankenship went the pre-historic route of communication and sent Brooks an email to see if he was interested in continuing his career at LSUS. And, by the way, how about lunch?

Brooks got the message and the two got together over a platter of extra spicy tenders at Buffalo Wild Wings. Luckily, no one spilled any of the Caribbean Jerk sauce on the signing papers, so Brooks signed up to be a Pilot right there in the parking lot.

“The whole process took about 10 hours,” Blankenship said.

The recruitment process, not the digestion process.

If Brooks keeps playing like he has – he’s the Red River Athletic Conference Player of the Week – Blankenship might be wearing out that BWW Blazin’ Rewards card for future recruiting purposes.

Brooks was at it again Thursday night at the Dock as he led the Pilots in scoring with 21 points as the consonants (LSU-S) won out over the vowels of (LSU-A) 82-67 in a game that featured one of the filthiest dunks you have ever seen by Louisiana Tech transfer Stacey Thomas.

“This is a special win,” Blankenship said afterward. “Any time you play your rival you know you are going to get their best shot. We had to fight like heck to win that game. I guess all I can say is that I’m proud.”

It’s an LSUS roster that literally doesn’t look anything like last year’s, but the results have been impressive through the first month of the season.

“It’s a unique approach that we had to take,” Blankenship said. “It’s been a lot of fun starting from scratch.” 

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It’s not easy to see the football career end (for Dad)

If you think it’s tough watching high school seniors in the immediate aftermath of the final football game of their lives, you aren’t paying close enough attention.

There’s another entire group – also with Y chromosomes – that is having an even tougher time with it.

When the buzzer sounds and you’re on the wrong end of the scoreboard, it’s a tough deal for a player. They really don’t grasp the totality of it; just that it feels like the team on the other end of the field is tap dancing on your grave. That’s a direct punch to the 18-year-old ego. They are going to play next week, and you aren’t.

There will be a few tears, and that’s usually reserved for the inevitable moment or two with Dad.

For the last three weeks, as Shreveport-Bossier teams have slowly filed out of the playoffs, that scene has played out all over the state. Buzzer sounds. Coach huddles up the team one last time. Coach then talks to seniors only for one last love-you-guys moment. Seniors then take the slow walk off the field, intercepted somewhere by individual dads.

The guy with the shoulder pads on may be the only one with the salty discharge running down his face, but that’s only temporary. He will be over it by the time the bus warms up. But that’s not the case for Dad.

In the moment, Dad is fine with it. The offspring is sad, so he is there to be comforting. Quality move.

But be assured there’s somebody else who is going to need comfort: Dad.

There’s an empty feeling that doesn’t go away soon. So much time, so much emotion, so much pride has gone into watching a boy go from flag football to his senior season of high school.

And now it’s over? What am I supposed to do now?

There’s no more practice to watch and analyze. No more team meals to help out with. No more discussing the next game with the guys at work.

Nothing can begin to prepare Dad for the rest of his post-football fatherly life. You just try to exist until the feeling of living a normal existence — one without Friday nights at the stadium – comes back.

Don’t let anyone tell you that basketball or baseball or soccer is going to fill that void. Because it won’t.

For some reason, the end is much tougher to take over the long haul for Dad than it is for the player. Unless they are headed to play in college, most high school football players are fine with it. Sure was fun playing and being part of a team, a few locker room pranks were pulled, maybe a fake injury to get out of a practice or two. Overall, it was a great three months.

Dad looks at it on a much more global scale. He still can remember seeing his kid with the shoulder pads on backwards or having that “stick with it” conversation. Every season was another step, but Dad always knew where it was going to end. He just didn’t want to think about that, because it was so much damned fun along the way.

And then the other team won on a November night and it all stopped.

So as the scene gets played out all over the high school football landscape, please know that Dad is going to be fine.

It’s just going to take some time.

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It’s more than just the wins for Mack Jones as he joins the 700 Club

MASTERFUL MACK:  After notching his 700th career coaching win last week, Huntington basketball coach Mack Jones shows no signs of slowing down, as he takes pride in impacting the lives of his players. (Photo by JOHN PENROD, Journal Sports)


He’s a coach with 700 career wins, but you are wasting your time if you try to remind Huntington boys basketball coach Mack Jones that he’s never won a state championship.

Because to him, he’s winning one every day.

“Those are just trophies that gather dust,” Jones says. “What I put into kids’ lives and see them when they come back … that’s like a state championship for me. Just to watch the fruit of my labor, that’s it.”

He’s 57 years old and had no idea he’d be coaching high school basketball at this age – much less reach 700 wins earlier this year — but then again, Jones has never really done anything else.

“It’s been like a dream to me,” he says.

A really, really good dream.

In high school, he was the MVP on the All-City team in 1982-83 when he averaged 19.6 points per game in leading the Green Oaks Giants to the playoffs. From there, he went on to play at Arkansas-Pine Bluff.

Jones did his student teaching at Byrd under coaches Charles Thrash and Delbert Clinton and after two years, found himself as the head coach at Woodlawn.

He was 24 years old.

“That,” he says, “was some on-the-job training.”

But he stayed at Woodlawn for 13 years – taking the Knights to the state quarterfinals in 2003 – before taking over at Huntington in 2003-04.

Jones has built the Raiders into one of the top programs in Class 4A. Jones has led them to six 30-win seasons and they have made three state semifinal appearances, including last year when Jones and his team had to overcome the death of one of its players as the playoffs began.

Jones has won nine district championships at Huntington and three at Woodlawn. He had an eight-year run at Huntington in which he only lost a total of two district games.

He hasn’t had a losing season in more than 20 years.

Instead of taking a night off, it’s not unusual to find Jones sitting in the stands at Huntington freshmen and JV road games.

“I’ve never worked a day in my life,” Jones said. “I’ve never wanted to do anything else. I was fortunate enough to come back home, so this is not work for me. It’s fun.”

OK, maybe not all the time. February 27, 2007, wasn’t exactly his favorite memory when Barbe sank a mid-court shot that was clearly after the buzzer to take a one-point win in the second round of the playoffs. “That was a tough one,” Jones says.

Getting to 700 wins was never a goal for Jones. It’s just happened that way.

“First of all, you have to have good players,” Jones says. “But mostly, you have to work hard every day and just do the day-to-day grind and make sure the program is always going in the right direction. Make sure the kids are doing the right thing. And lo and behold, you look up and wins will take care of themselves.”

And it is still just as much fun now as it has ever been. Every morning, he has the Huntington JV players for first period, so he knows what he is walking into every day.

“To see those kids and the smile on their faces first thing in the morning makes me feel good,” Jones says. “I want them to be on the right path and know that it’s not just about basketball.”

He’d rather not think about how much longer he will be coaching, but he knows the clock is ticking.

“I look at these freshmen … (the players) just keep coming,” he says. “It’s hard to walk away. I know eventually I’m going to have to. Not that I can’t do another 10 years. But someone is going to come along and do a better job than I did.

“To me, coaching hasn’t changed much,” he adds. “The kids have changed. I’ve worked with some of the best coaches around and I’ve taken a lot from some of the best and tried to make my own way of doing things. It’s like a dream for me.” 

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Falcons believe they can take an historic step

STUFFED: The Northwood defense, led by Tadarius Collins (4) will be looking for another strong performance against Brother Martin. (File photo by JOHN JAMES MARSHALL, Journal Sports)


There’s a difference this year and Northwood coach Austin Brown can sense it in his locker room and on the practice field.

Once again, the Falcons are in the state quarterfinals (though in a different bracket than 2021) and preparing to try to do something the school has never done – reach the semifinals.

A year ago, the quarterfinals were against Westgate and the Falcons were going to be at home for that game.

But as Brown came to find out later, many on his team did not go into that game with the belief that they could win. (Even though they almost did, losing on a two-point conversion on the final play that would have sent it into overtime.)

When Brown met with each of his players after the season, he found out that the talk in the locker room that week had been about some of the older players saying “this is our last game.”

That is not the case this year.

“The whole focus during the off season and during this week to our players has been to remember how you felt last year when some of your leaders didn’t believe,” Brown said.

This time, it will be a road trip to New Orleans to take on Brother Martin at Tad Gormley Stadium in City Park. Game time this evening is an hour earlier than normal, at 6 p.m.

The Crusaders, who play in the Catholic League, are one of the storied programs in the state, having been to the state semifinals in each of the last three years.

But the Falcons are no strangers to playing well-established teams in the playoffs, having teed it up with Edna Karr, Warren Easton and Carencro in recent years.

“We’ve always believed we could play with anybody at any time,” Brown said. “It’s that belief in ourselves. We’ve been up against some really good teams. And we are still here.”

Still here, just moved a little bit.

In previous years, Northwood played in the Non-Select, Class 4A playoff bracket. The LHSAA reworked the playoff classifications during the first month of the season and the Falcons are now on the Select side and in Division I. That bracket is for the schools in the top 25 percent of enrollment of Select schools (not just Class 5A select schools).

But you know who else is in the same bracket?  Edna Karr, Warren Easton and Carencro.

“We know we belong,” Brown said. “And I think that’s powerful to us for our confidence.”

What is also powerful to the Falcons’ confidence is their impressive 35-9 win over St. Paul’s, another member of the Catholic League, last week.

Northwood did not allow a touchdown (only three field goals) despite having turnovers in the red zone and gave up only 208 yards in total offense. Quarterback Mason Welch had a 69-yard touchdown run and added another TD run and a touchdown pass to Marc Denison.

Mar’Jayvious Moss had a 14-yard TD run and the Falcons also had a special teams touchdown on a blocked punt.

Brother Martin, the No. 13 seed at 7-5, is coming off a 27-24 win over St. Augustine. Northwood, the No. 5 seed, is 9-2 and has won seven straight games.

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Division I – Select Quarterfinal

5-Northwood (9-2) at 13-Brother Martin (7-5) 

Where: Tad Gormley, New Orleans

 Series: First meeting 

Last week: Northwood beat St. Paul’s 35-9; Brother Martin beat St. Augustine 27-24 

Rankings: Northwood received votes in LSWA 4A poll 

All-time playoff record: Northwood 12-25; Brother Martin 30-30-2 

Last semifinal appearance: Northwood – none; Brother Martin 2021 

Radio: Northwood –  Miracle 89.1 FM 

Notables: Leading rusher Quintavion White has been fighting an injured ankle and saw limited duty last week against St. Paul’s (seven carries). Head coach Austin Brown said he expects White to be ready to go in Friday’s game … Taderius Collins blocked a punt and returned it 35 yards for a score last week … Quarterback Mason Welch had a career-high 108 rushing yards last week and Mar’Jayvious Moss added 68 … Moss and Camron McCullough were the leading tacklers with 11 each … Welch completed 10 passes, but none were for longer than 17 yards … Northwood is 0-3 in quarterfinal games — all coming in the last six years.

Just trying to help with some high school football tweaks

This has been one of my favorite high school football seasons ever, mostly due to the advent of the Shreveport-Bossier Journal and getting to cover games and teams I wouldn’t normally get a chance to see.

Of the 19 teams in the SBJ’s coverage area, I saw 12 of them. Kinda hacked I didn’t get to see them all (especially since I missed 66 percent of the Bossier Parish schools).

But I’ve covered 20 games this year – including one that took two days – and each had its own story to tell. I suppose you could get that covering the City Hall beat, but I doubt it.

There’s plenty to love about a high school football season, but there are some things that might want to be looked at in the name of improvement.

And before we go there, let’s go here. The playoff structure in place is the best way to do something that is, by its own nature, imperfect. It will be tweaked and adjusted and re-arranged, but it will never be fixed. So let’s just live with what we’ve got and go from there. (Spoiler alert – the best teams almost always win the state championship, no matter what the system in place.)

REWARDING DISTRICT CHAMPIONS: One of the criticisms about the Power Point system is that it de-incentivizes winning the district. The kids still get a patch on the letter jacket, but that’s about it.

This was once done in basketball and I think it’s a good idea for football: Each district champion gets an extra 1.0 added to their final power point total. A team that finishes at 14.1 would jump to 15.1. It won’t make much difference at the top – you figure those teams would be district winners anyway – but lower-ranked district winners could move up 4-5 spots.

In a few cases, that might even mean a first-round home game or maybe even a bye. Not a bad reward for winning the district and certainly better than a patch.

FLAG THROWING AND CHAIN MOVING: Everybody yells about holding calls. You could bring the best NFL crew to a high school game and you’d still get that complaint. I think the referees do a good job of (1) knowing the rules (2) explaining issues to coaches and (3) keeping control of the game.

But there are two things I see that need to be improved because they can often be game-changers. And it’s nothing new for me because I’ve had this conversation with referee friends of mine for years.

Too often, referees throw flags without regard for where the infraction took place. They just throw them and wherever it lands is the spot. Not a big deal – unless it’s a spot-of-the-foul penalty. If an offensive hold occurs three yards behind the line of scrimmage, but the flag lands eight yards behind, that becomes an 18-yard penalty instead of a 13-yard penalty. That makes a difference.

It’s even worse on kick returns because there are bodies in motion all over the place. Sometimes the flag is being thrown from 20 yards away as the play is continuing in the opposite direction.

But the bigger problem? Ball spotting, especially on fourth down. I guess these referees are watching too much NFL and college where they love showing the side judge hurriedly pointing upfield to signal to move the chains. What’s the hurry?

In the 20 games I’ve seen this year, I’ve seen maybe two measurements. I don’t care how fast the offensive team wants to play. Get. It. Right. Especially in the fourth quarter. Especially in a playoff game. 

AND THE BAND SHOULDN’T PLAY ON: Sorry band people, but there’s a time and a place for everything. Play all you want … during timeouts, between quarters and at halftime. Not during live action.

I applaud the creative band directors who know enough football strategy to play only when the opposing team has the ball, but it should never be allowed. You think referees would allow it if some band wanted to perform a whistle routine during the game?

A team shouldn’t have an advantage just because its band knows how to play “Shake Your Groove Thing” on fourth down in a tie game. 

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