BY MATT VINES, Journal Staff
CAMPTI — The outpouring of love and support when Lakeview coach and athletics director Brandon Helms announced his retirement Thursday on Facebook painted a clear picture – Coach Helms certainly impacted those around him in a career that spanned nearly three decades.
Helms, who was the head coach at Natchitoches Central for nine seasons before coming to Lakeview in 2018, said he’s stepping away from his Lakeview roles to address his health.
Helms said the decision was “extremely emotional” because he “loves these kids more than they could ever know,” but the response to his announcement has been just as emotional.
“It’s been overwhelming, just really overwhelming,” said Helms, who had nearly 200 comments on his Facebook post from players, coaches, teachers and administrators among others. “When you’re in the middle of it, you don’t think about it (the impact a coach can have) because you’re grinding every day to do your job. And you don’t realize the impact that others have on you until you sit back and think about it. The past 24 hours has been overwhelming for lack of a better word.”
The Arkansas native and Ouachita Baptist graduate cut his coaching teeth in Arkansas and Mississippi before getting baptized in Louisiana football on the staffs of West Ouachita and Ouachita in the Monroe area.
Most recently at Lakeview, Helms spearheaded the fundraising and construction of a new football stadium, which was unveiled this season.
The Gators (4-6) won four straight games this season, the longest for the program in at least a decade, but missed the playoffs after injuries derailed a team with limited depth and number of players.
Helms guided Lakeview to two playoff appearances in his five seasons, including a six-win campaign in 2019 after halting a lengthy program losing streak in 2018.
When Helms started the Lakeview job in 2018, the program was in the midst of a 14-game losing streak which stopped at 22 when the Gators scored a late-season win against Winnfield.
“Any time you take a new job, you want to leave it in a better situation than you found it,” Helms said. “And that’s something we’ve been able to do at Lakeview. We, and I say we because there were so many people involved, were able to improve the facilities and program overall. The next guy that steps in – he’ll have all the resources he needs to be successful.”
Helms came to Natchitoches Parish as the Natchitoches Central offensive coordinator in 2007 before assuming the head coaching role in 2008.
He guided the Chiefs to the playoffs for six straight seasons from 2010-2015 with their highest seed coming as a No. 18 in 2012 thanks to a six-game winning streak that included Benton, Captain Shreve, Haynesville and North DeSoto.
Constantly butting heads with some of the state’s best from Shreveport and Monroe as a member of District 1-5A and District 2-5A, Helms piloted one of the smallest Class 5A schools in the state.
West Monroe, Ruston, Byrd, Airline and Ouachita were regulars on Natchitoches Central’s slate.
“I was telling somebody the other day that in my 15 years of coaching in Natchitoches Parish, my Week 10 opponent has been either West Monroe or Many in seven of those years,” Helms said. “Coming from Ouachita, I knew about District 2-5A and the programs we’d be going up against. And then at Lakeview, it’s been Many, Winnfield and Red River before they added Mansfield and Jonesboro-Hodge, so there’s really no off week. It’s been a grind, but iron sharpens iron, and we got iron every week. It’s a challenge you look forward to, and it’s made us better.”
One key cog in that era of Chiefs football was running back De’Mard Llorens, who walked on at Northwestern State before emerging as one of the most productive backs in Demon history before playing in the 2016 preseason with the Los Angeles Rams.
“Thanks for believing in me,” Llorens commented on Helms’ post. “Didn’t go unnoticed and I appreciate you.”
Helms not only found time to guide his players, other coaches said they valued Helms’ insight and opinion.
North DeSoto assistant coach Christopher Wilson, a former head coach at Plain Dealing, credited Helms with being a mentor and confidant via his Facebook comment.
Helms finished his NCHS tenure with a 37-58 mark and his Lakeview stint at 14-34. Those don’t include head coaching stops in Arkansas and Mississippi previous to his Louisiana days.
But Helms again found himself facing some of the toughest Class 2A competition in the state as a member of District 3-2A, and Many coach Jess Curtis said he has nothing but respect for Helms.
“Coach Helms has always done a great job wherever he has been,” said Curtis, who coached against Helms’ teams at Natchitoches Central and Lakeview. “His teams were always well-coached and prepared. I will miss competing against him. He is a good man.”
Helms said he couldn’t have been a coach without the support of his loving wife Sherry and two sons, the younger of which is a junior in high school.
“My wife coached for years, and she was still coaching when we came here,” Helms said. “She’s been my biggest supporter and has been a Mama to our players as well – they call her ‘Mama Helms.’ My sons lived and breathed in the programs we were in, and they’ve made huge sacrifices. I know that burning desire (to coach) will always be there, but my No. 1 focus is my health and my family.”
CREDIT: Kevin Shannahan/Journal Sports