Tigers-Gators, Chiefs-Flyers kick off in 2023 NRMC jam session tonight

By DWAIN SPILLMAN, JR., Journal Sports

Are you ready for some football? Our Natchitoches Parish high schoolers are feverishly preparing to be ready even during one of the hottest summers and preseason camps residents have seen in years.

Coaches, players, and fans from Natchitoches Central, Lakeview and St. Mary’s will have just one more opportunity to prepare at game speed as they look to this evening’s NRMC Jamboree at NSU’s Turpin Stadium as the kickoff of the 2023 high school gridiron season is on the immediate horizon.

Scrimmages for all three clubs were accomplished last week. Tonight’s jamboree will be the final prep session for all three programs before the season officially begins next Friday.

At 6 p.m., the Tigers will face off against the in-parish rival Gators to get Friday’s practice session started while the homestanding Chiefs will entertain Shreveport’s Loyola Prep Flyers with their Snoopy-logoed helmets at 8 o’clock.

Two of the three Natchitoches Parish schools have installed new head coaches since last season. Though the third school retains its six-year boss and enjoyed a deep run in the playoffs in 2022, the past is the past and all three teams are building toward success for the ’23 campaign.

The Chiefs, 3-7 a year ago, saw signs of progress in last week’s scrimmage at Pineville. NCHS teams are 27-54 since 2015 and advanced to the playoffs most recently in 2021 only to be ousted in the first round.

Jess Curtis, the new head coach at the Teepee, comes from a storied career as the leader of his alma mater. Curtis and his Many teams placed three state championship titles in the trophy case at Many while adding three additional state runners-up trophies in 13 seasons. His hopes are very high and he is motivated to bring similar success to Natchitoches. The local fans are more than hungry for what potentially is ahead.

“We have a big vision of where we can take this program,” Curtis said heading into the jam session tonight. “We are just excited to begin this journey and see where it takes us. We have had a good spring, a good summer, and a good fall camp. We are just ready to tee it up and move forward from here.”

The Chiefs have turned out in much larger numbers this season in support of their new field general. Curtis expressed his appreciation for the attitude and work ethic the Chiefs have displayed since his arrival from Sabine Parish.

“The kids are excited,” he said. “It’s just been good all around here. The kids have been working hard and we have great support.”

NCHS will battle the Flyers in the second half of the jamboree this evening and Loyola Prep is guided by one of north Louisiana’s familiar faces. Head coach Mike Greene is seventh in all-time wins in the Caddo-Bossier area and has had stints as head coach previously at Airline, Fair Park, Booker T. Washington and, now, a second tenure as the Flyers’ boss man.

“They will definitely test us,” Curtis said of Friday’s opponent. “Mike Greene does a great job at getting his players prepared. Playing a solid, well-coached team like Loyola gives us a great opportunity to see where we are now. We had a good scrimmage last week but we need to play a much cleaner game. Our main goal is to just take a big step this week in our preparation for the season.”

Over in Tiger Land on East Fifth Street, SMS looks at a more than familiar and traditional foe for the jamboree. The annual jamboree matchup between two parish rivals is only about a last practice opportunity for both squads as the games really start to count in the record books next week.

“It’s all about the motivation within ourselves to prepare Monday thru Thursday for Friday nights, both mentally and physically.” SMS head coach Aaron York said this week. “It is just about how well we want to be prepared and put in the work.”

The York-led Tigers added another district championship last season to the halls of the school enroute to a 9-2 record and a tough derailment in the quarterfinal round of the playoffs. York and his staff are now focused on filling the depth chart in their preparation for this season.

“We are still trying to build depth on both sides of the ball,” he said. “We are looking for kids that can step up and get us reps (during the jamboree) and contribute during the season. It’s just a mental thing now. It’s about how much we want to get better each and every Friday night. This year, we just want to stay healthy. Most of our starters and skilled players are back so if we stay healthy, we will be just fine and we are excited about what we can accomplish.”

Looking northward to the Swamp, new Gator head coach Andy Boone comes from a successful 15-year career as the boss at Avoyelles High School. He garnered 81 wins along with consistent deep runs in the playoffs as the Mustangs boss and looks forward to bringing success to north Natchitoches Parish. Boone is old school.

What does that translate to in the Swamp today? The Gators’ boss utilizes an unconventional approach to high school football which is mostly opposite of today’s pro-style spread offensive playbook scripted by most teams. Boone’s teams have traditionally lined up and went straight at the opponent, never punting on fourth down. Boone said he is most proud of his players buying into that “old school” concept.

“Our attitude last Friday night during the scrimmage was great,” he said. “I am very glad and pleased to see that in our players. We just want to see improvement each week. We hope to avoid injuries due to our depth (25 players on roster). If we can do that I believe our first five games are very winnable. Then, we have to carry that into the second half of the season (district).”

Boone concluded, “This Friday night (jamboree) is so important for us in that we get a much-needed opportunity to take advantage of many full game speed reps,” Boone said. “We are just looking for continued improvement. We barely have enough to get full speed reps offensively and defensively in practice due to our numbers. Our players and coaches are ready to get some experience at full speed against an opponent.

“This Friday night is not about winning or losing or some rivalry. I don’t really care about that. This is about our team improving with every game-type opportunity we get. Win or lose in the jamboree we are still 0-0 on the season so we just want to get better and stay healthy.“

Photo by KEVIN SHANNAHAN, Natchitoches Parish Journal