St. Mary’s has a unique homecoming planned tonight

Homecoming has a very special meaning for the St. Mary’s football program this year.

When the Tigers take the field tonight for their 7 o’clock homecoming game, it will be at home – on campus – for the first time.

St. Mary’s has played on campus before, hosting a regular season district game a couple of years ago and scrimmages on the Tigers’ practice field. Sometime in the future, sooner than later, it is expected to become the full-time home for SMHS football. For now, NSU’s Turpin Stadium is the standard venue as it has been since 1977.

Few high schools in Louisiana have such a nice homefield, but there is no place like home, on campus. And to accomplish that for tonight, there’s been a lot of work required, said Tigers head coach Aaron York.

“We’re cutting the field, painting it, all the prep work. We’ve brought in portable restrooms, lifts for the game film and coaches, and all that’s needed to host a game. It’s stressful but exciting to be able to host people on campus and to show alumni who have been away just now the facilities here have been upgraded,” he said.

Then there’s all the organized and spontaneous excitement of a high school homecoming week.

“We’re squeezing it in between homecoming dances, bonfires, pep rallies and stuff,” said York with a tinge of sarcasm. “The biggest thing this week, especially with such a young team, is to keep the kids focused, to remind them the season still has five games to go, and if we don’t perform, we won’t reap the benefits that we’ve lined up in the first half of the season.”

The Tigers (4-1 overall, while playing five games against higher classification opponents) are hosting their District 3-1A opener against visiting Northwood-Lena (2-2).

St. Mary’s is No. 1 in the LHSAA Division IV power point rankings, and is on the brink of breaking into the Louisiana Sports Writers Association top 10 poll for Class A. The Tigers earned 22 points in this week’s voting, ranking 11th, nine points away from No. 10 St. Edmund’s.

Standout safety Mixon Bankston, the defensive quarterback (and the backup QB on offense) is out with a sprained knee. The Tigers will call on a freshman to step in defensively.

“Braylon Normand is going to have to step up and fill an important role,” said York. “He has to grow up quick, but he’s got the ability to do it and he’s looked the part this week.”

Northwood shouldn’t be taken for granted by the high-flying Tigers.

“They’re big up front, physical and will run right at you. We’ve seen that for the last two weeks and here it comes again,” said York. “We’ve reminded our kids, Northwood was giving us all we wanted last year, had us on the ropes, and the lights went out. That gave us a break, and allowed us to regroup and we came back and won.

“If we can play to our level, and play fast, we’ll be fine. But if we don’t, bad things can happen.”

The Tigers could get offensive lineman Russ Hillhouse back from injury tonight or next week, which will be a boost, said York. Bankston is out for “several weeks.”

In any case, on a beautiful Friday evening on East Fifth Street, York anticipates making some great memories.

“It’s going to be a great atmosphere. I’ve heard from so many people who are tailgating. They’re cooking a whole alligator out there. We’ll have lawn chairs and packed bleachers and it will be a fun environment,” he said. “Our ultimate goal, long term, is we want to play here. This is one big step in that direction.”

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