St. James Wildcats “Throw It At Your Own Risk” Defense Sets Its Mark In Program History
by Jace LeJeune
The St. James Wildcats are one of the best Class 3A football programs over the last couple of seasons under head coach Robert Valdez. In fact, the Wildcats won their first state championship title in 2019 since the 1979 season. While the Wildcats got a lot of attention because of their talent on the offensive side of the football with the likes of Shamar Smith (Nicholls State) at quarterback, it was the talent of the defense that helped guide the Wildcats to 23 wins over the last two seasons.
Not only talented, but aggressive, the Wildcats’ defensive secondary was one of the best in the entire state. In fact, according to Louisiana Football Magazine’s recruiting guru Lee Brecheen, it was the best secondary he has seen play all year. St. James High School head football coach Robert Valdez agrees with that take.
“Those kids that we had this year in Joel Cooper, J’Kory Ester, Keshawn Coleman, and Carlos Price are freakish and really go getter type kids,” Coach Valdez said. “If you threw the ball on us this year, chances are that our secondary will get it before their receivers did. They are really good athletes, but I was proud of them because they all bought into our scheme, which calls for multiple looks whether it is zone, man, off-coverage, you name it. They did a phenomenal job this season and are going to be great players.”
If both Brecheen and Coach Valdez’s praise on arguably the number one defensive backfield this season does not convince you, the numbers most certainly will as this secondary combined for 27 interceptions total and returned six of those picks for touchdowns. With a secondary that was full of ball hawks that also had a knack for getting in the end zone, there are a lot of opportunities for all of these members to play at the next level and each member of this “No Fly Zone” defensive backfield brings something to the table.
“Joel Cooper’s recruiting is starting to pick up because of the whole COVID, transfer portal, and players getting an extra year of eligibility,” Coach Valdez said. “He didn’t get the chance of hitting the camp circuit last year. He has gained some in state looks. Baylor called asking about him just yesterday and also some FBS programs are showing interest as well.”
“J’Kory Ester is a hidden gem that can really play and is just a guy that has been overshadowed, but programs have showed interest in him as well,” Coach Valdez said. “Keshawn Coleman is one of the fastest players we ever had come to St. James and is getting a lot of track interest. He is getting some football attention, but mostly track. Finally, Carlos Price is a little undersized so he may end up walking on somewhere in the end, but we did get a lot of mileage from those guys.”
It was not only the secondary that got a lot of turnovers, but a lot of those turnovers were forced because of the Wildcats having arguably the best player in the entire state on their front seven creating pressure in Saivion Jones. In fact, Brecheen picked the LSU commit as his number one senior player in the Class of 2021 for the state of Louisiana on the Bayou 25 after Jones had a dominant season with 75 total tackles (57 solo, 18 assists), 20 tackles for a loss, 10 sacks, 23 quarterback hurries, six batted balls, two blocked kicks, three forced fumbles, two recovered fumbles, one interception, and one defensive touchdown.
“Anytime you have a guy as big as he is at 6-5 that also can run a 4.5/40, that is big,” Coach Valdez said. “I still think the best is ahead of him with what he can do.”
Not only does the Wildcats have the best senior player in the state, the best secondary in the state, but there is a good chance that there might be another Wildcat player at the top of the Bayou 25 list next season in junior Shazz Preston.
“Football has really evolved and the thing about Shazz is that he has an outside linebacker’s frame playing receiver with that type of skill and that type of speed,” Coach Valdez said. “He has been playing really nasty for us lately and is not playing with a wide receiver’s mentality, but playing that position with a linebacker mentality.”
There are the stars of course like Saivion, Shazz, and the other skill position players, but for Coach Valdez, there are two other players that contributed to the Wildcats’ defense being so good this season.
“Kaleb Brown was our team captain and made All-State three years in a row,” Coach Valdez said. “The only thing with Kaleb is his height. He is a Sam Mills (New Orleans Saints/Carolina Panthers) type of guy and has received some small Division II and Division III, but he has been a coach’s dream.”
“Also, one of our best weapons has been our kicker/punter Alec Mahler,” Coach Valdez said. “He’s handled all the kickoffs, all the punting duties, and scores all the field goals as well as the extra points. I think what has made our defense so good is that most teams have to start at the 20 yard line.”
With eight starters leaving on the defensive side of the football, it will be the offense that will have to step up more next season in order for the Wildcats to get back to the state championship game.
“That’s the thing about St. James,” Coach Valdez said. “We have a great tradition. Our kids know the tradition and our community has been so supportive. We know that our only two goals every year in this program is to compete for district and state championships.”
As talented and well coached are the Wildcats, no one should be expecting anything less.
Hey football fans. Like our recruiting interviews, stories, and other content on our website? Click on our website daily to view articles on recruits, coaches, and so much more at our website: https://www.lafootballmagazine.com/.
Also, we have exciting news that for the fourth straight year, we will have our North and South LA issues and both are now out! Both issues will continue to cover all the Louisiana colleges as well as all the high schools in state, but there will be 16 pages that will focus on North Louisiana as well as South Louisiana. Along with our print editions of both magazine issues, our digital magazine editions will also be available to pre-order. Just like with our print versions, our digital editions will be available to you when both magazines are available.
For more information, please check the following link to where you can either order our print or digital version of the magazine of your choice. Also, below are the two covers as well as where you can order both magazines on our website.
Buy Print/Digital Magazine Here: https://www.lafootballmagazine.com/magazine/
North Cover South Cover
Jace is from Addis, LA but resides in Port Allen, LA. Jace attends Southeastern Louisiana University and is majoring in Communications. This is Jace’s fourth year as Associate Editor at Louisiana Football Magazine. He is also a graduate from Catholic High School in Baton Rouge where he was the editor of the school newspaper the “Bearly Published.” While at CHS, Jace also announced their football, basketball, and baseball games for the Bruin Broadcast Network which is the Catholic High’s streaming website for their events. On weekends, Jace is the PA announcer for his middle school football games. At home, Jace enjoys time with his family and friends. Besides being a huge football fan, Jace is also an avid NHRA drag racing fan.