The Sulphur Golden Tors End The Jeff Wainwright Era With Four Seniors Signing To Play Collegiate Football
by Jace LeJeune
It has been quite the season for the Sulphur Golden Tors in more ways than one. In 2018, the team had an up and down season going 5-6 and losing in the first round of the Class 5A playoffs to the eventual state champion Zachary Broncos. However, it did not stop there at the end of the regular season.
Head Coach Jeff Wainwright, who has served at the head position for six years since December 2012, decided to step down and take his coaching talents to Grand Lake High School. During that time, Wainwright finished with an overall record of 34-31 and did a lot of great things for the football program. Some of his biggest accomplishments were leading Sulphur back to the top of District 3-5A as the Tors won a share of the district title in back to back years from 2016 to 2017 for the first time since a three peat in 2005, 2006 and 2007. Also, Wainwright won the big games including snapping losing streaks to rivals Barbe and Acadiana as well as leading the team to its first playoff win in ten seasons. Wainwright has accomplished a lot on the football field dating all the way back to his earlier coaching days at Kinder High School, but it was developing young men that Wainwright is most proud of. Senior LB Jake LaFleur, and senior WR Branden Walker have high praise for their head coach.
“Coach Wainwright always pushed me to be the best player that I could be and he formed me into being a leader,” LaFleur said. “I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for him and the rest of the Sulphur coaches.”
“Coach Wainwright pushed me to my limits every play in practices also in games for four years,” Walker said.
Even though they are sad to see Coach Wainwright leave, they are also as equally excited about their new Head Coach Cecil Thomas. Thomas, who is a former Utah player and Hammond High School head coach, did one of the best coaching jobs last season leading the Walker Wildcats to the playoffs after taking over as interim head coach. LaFleur, Walker, and senior TE Hayden Hagler cannot be happier that the program will be in great shape once they are gone.
“I am really impressed with what Coach Thomas is already doing at Sulphur,” LaFleur said. “Even though he’s only been here a short time, he has brought an intense passion into the weight room and the boys are already looking bigger. I see Coach Thomas doing very well at Sulphur. I think he’s going to bring home a state title to SHS in the near future.”
“I think he’s a great fit and brings a good amount of energy for the team,” Walker said. “Sulphur will be a successful and disciplined team in the future.”
“My advice to next year’s team is to pay attention to Coach Cecil because he is a very smart man and will do very good things for Sulphur,” Hagler said. “I’ve sat and talked with him and he a lot of football I.Q. and knows many coaches. I believe he can help with recruitment out of Sulphur and getting these hardworking kids some scholarships.”
The team has been successful in years past not only because of the coaching, but the talent as well. In fact, there were four seniors this season that went on to sign to play collegiate football in LaFleur, Walker, Hagler, and senior WR Gage Rapp, who will be playing in college as a preferred walk-on.
If Jake LaFleur’s last name sounds familiar to you, then you must remember his father David LaFleur, who was a High School All-American at Westlake High School, a two time All-SEC player/All-American at LSU, and finally a first round NFL Draft pick with the Dallas Cowboys. Even though both are talented players in their own right and both share the same last name, there are a lot of differences between the two.
“We share the same love for football and we both have a very strong work ethic,” LaFleur said. “Our obvious difference is that he was 6-7, 260 pounds and very highly recruited out of high school, but other than that, we are very similar in the way we play and how we carry ourselves.”
Even though there are a lot of differences between the two, Louisiana Football Magazine’s recruiting expert Lee Brecheen sees some similarities.
“Jake’s dad was 6-7, 280 pounds at LSU and in the pros with the Dallas Cowboys as a tight end,” Brecheen said. “Jake is 6-2, 210 pounds and plays middle linebacker. You can tell that Jake is a player’s son with a very high I.Q. of the game. I think if he works on his 40 speed, which I think he will, he has a chance to be a really good Southland Conference linebacker. Like his dad, he will be around 230 pounds in about a year.”
Having a father as successful as Jake’s, it can be hard sometimes to live to expectations. However, he does not feel that pressure as his father supports him 100% of the time no matter what he goes into.
“He has never really pushed me to do one thing,” LaFleur said. “He let me choose my own path, which ended up being football, but he has always been supportive of me. He also helped me out a lot these last few years with breaking down film and understanding the game in more depth.”
Like his father, Jake has decided to play college football. In only two years, Jake has made his mark at Sulphur racking up 178 solo tackles, 80 assisted tackles, seven tackles for loss, five sacks, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, nine pass breakups, and eight quarterback hurries. As quickly as he made an impact was as quick as he received college offers. After receiving offers from Nicholls State, Southeastern, ULM, Louisiana Tech, and Tulsa, the second generation player has decided to take his talents to the Southland Conference at McNeese State.
“I chose McNeese because of their winning tradition, a chance to play for my hometown university, and to go compete for a national championship,” LaFleur said.
The second Tor to sign is none other than the exciting and explosive Branden Walker. All that Walker has done in his four years was make plays on the offensive side of the football as a receiver. During that time, Walker had 14 total receiving touchdowns and five total rushing touchdowns while making 1st team All-District as a return specialist and as a wide receiver while leading the district in receiving touchdowns his sophomore year. Not to mention that he also made All-State honors as a wide receiver. Despite the success, Walker received one offer and that was Houston Baptist. Still, there were a lot of other factors besides the one offer that drew the versatile playmaker’s attention.
“The positive energy that is given from the coaching staff and players, the big future in store for the football program, and the successful education were all reasons why I chose to sign with Houston Baptist,” Walker said.
For Brecheen, the Houston Baptist Huskies got themselves a big time playmaker.
“I though Branden Walker was their best athlete from last year,” Brecheen said. “He is a great player in the open field and makes plays. He is only about 5-9, 165 pounds, but he has 4.4/40 speed and can be a great receiver. Like Wayne Toussant (Plaquemine/Louisiana Tech), he could also be a great punt/kick returner.”
Not only did Houston Baptist pick up a steal according to Brecheen, but Southeastern Louisiana University and ULL picked up some great additions. The Lions of Southeastern signed senior TE Hayden Hagler as a scholarship player while ULL signed senior WR Gage Rapp as a preferred walk-on.
“Gage Rapp is a phenomenal slot receiver with great hands and 4.5/40 speed,” Brecheen said. “He also really came on during his senior year. He can flat out play at 5-10, 165 pounds. I was really impressed with him, and I think he can be a great I-AA player.”
“Hayden Hagler is a great player,” Brecheen said. “I think Southeastern has themselves a pro tight end. He really came into his own in 2019. He is a legit 6-4, 235 pounds with 4.8/40 speed, great hands, and great blocking ability. I really do think he is capable of playing tight end at LSU.”
Hagler was really productive during his time with Sulphur. He had 26 receptions for 411 yards and four touchdowns to go with 36 pancake blocks. Hagler also had a scholarship offer from New Mexico State, but decided to stay in state with the Lions. He is excited for the opportunity to play at Southeastern and feels that he brings a lot of elements to their team.
“I feel like the biggest strengths in my game is that I am very blessed with size and I am a big receiver, but come from a bloodline of some nasty defensive ends and hard hitters on defense so I love to block,” Hagler said. “I feel that my passion to play tight end will help me because many tight ends now a days are more like receivers and don’t like to get in a true 11 personal hand in the dirt position. Plus, I feel like I am versatile and can play many positions if the coach needed. I love route running and being able to talk trash to defensive backs and occasionally getting loud with the defensive ends. I also have very good hand eye coordination. Catching the ball has always came easier.”
Despite the four players that signed their letter of intent to play college football, Brecheen believes there are a couple of other players that are capable of playing a couple of more years.
“Jaiven Creary was a really good power running back for them at about 5-10, 205 pounds,” Brecheen said.
“They also got a guy named Devon Lebrun,” Brecheen said. “He can play both cornerback and safety with 4.6/40 speed. He is a really good player. I am shocked that he did not sign.”
“There was also a cornerback named Kael Brown,” Brecheen said. “I think he can go to a Louisiana College type school.”
“QB Morgan Clark is a great athlete,” Brecheen said. “He has a strong arm at 5-11, 180 pounds. He does not like to be called an athlete. He likes to be called a quarterback. I really think he would be a great D-III quarterback, but he could also be a DI, I-AA type slot receiver. He has great feet in the pocket and only can run about a 4.7/40, but his arm is phenomenal. He will be a very tough replacement for Sulphur.”
All these seniors will be tough replacements especially with a new coach coming in. Fortunately, like this past season, there will be a great combination of coaching and talent for the Tors even though the names will be different this time around.
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