The newest challenger for the annual “Not-So-Sweet Award” at the annual coaches luncheon prior to the Iberia Parish Sugar Cane Jamboree held Wednesday at Landry’s Cajun, Seafood and Steakhouse made a big splash, earning top honors from among the coaches talking about their teams in his first appearance at the luncheon.

Highland Baptist head coach Artie Liuzza drew big laughs with his humorous tales of starting a football program with inexperienced players, and got the highest point total in votes among representatives of the sponsors for the luncheon (Community First Bank and The Daily Iberian) and the jamboree (Coca Cola and The Daily Iberian) from among the six speakers at the event.

The coaches for the six jamboree teams present their outlooks for the upcoming season in an understated, humorous way at the annual luncheon. Liuzza was joined by Ananias Johnson of Jeanerette — runner-up in the voting — along with veteran speakers Darcy Delcambre of Delcambre, Ryan Antoine of Westgate and Trent Delahoussaye of jamboree host school Loreauville. New Iberia Senior High athletic director Rob Schlicher substituted for longtime head football coach Rick Hutson, a several-times winner of the award, who was unable to attend Wednesday.

Liuzza said a lot of people may not even know who Highland Baptist is, referring to it as “The little school across the bayou.” But he said the experience he’s had at Highland has been unique in a football sense as he and his staff have had to teach the game to kids who’ve never played it before.

“The first year I was there, I was teaching the guys the different (pass) route patterns, and you have your out route, your corner route, your post route, and the kids just couldn’t get it,” Liuzza said. “Finally the next day a kid comes to me and says, ‘Coach, I don’t understand this. I can’t get the out route, the corner route and the post route.’ I said, ‘Well what makes it easier for you? How can you learn it?’ He said, ‘Can we call it a right angle, an acute angle and an obtuse angle?’ I said, ‘Oh, my goodness.’ That basically gives you an insight into our guys.”

Liuzza said he was hopeful heading into the season, and wants to put something on the field that the community can be proud of because the school takes a lot of pride in their sports and young people.

“And then Aug. 11 came around and we put on pads, and all those hopes were dashed,” Liuzza said. “I realized our kids are excellent. They’re excellent. They’re just not excellent football players. They’d make excellent bullfighters, because they have an innate ability to avoid contact. It’s just incredible. It’s incredible.”

Johnson thanked everyone he could think of, after saying he’d forgotten a couple of names the previous year. When Larry Hensgens of Community First Bank stood and showed him the bank logo on his shirt, Johnson drew a roar from the audience, and laughter from Hensgens, when he said, “Hold it, hold it — I got you over here, I got you over here. I want to thank Iberia Bank … I’m just playing!”

Johnson thanked band director Safiyy Raoof for keeping his team pepped up regardless of the situation on the field.

“He keeps our guys hyped, even though someone’s beating us 72-nothing — Catholic High, oh, they now look good — when they’re beating us 72-nothing, they keep us hyped,” Johnson said. “Sometimes I tell Mr. Raoof, cut it off, because they’re getting the other team hyped. We’re already getting beat.”

Delcambre, the defending champion and a three-time winner of the Not-So-Sweet Award himself, let the crowd know that he would follow his usual “truth-be-told” policy for the speeches and stick strictly to facts.

“We have 26 kids out,” he said. “It’s about the smallest crew we’ve had since I’ve been at Delcambre.

“It’s been a challenge. We’ve been working pretty hard. I think the school board would like to have the type of ratio (in classrooms) we have in football practice. We sat down and figured it out the other day. Our athlete-to-coach ratio is 5.21 to 1. So we have five kids and two-tenths to a coach. So we’re getting a lot of teaching in.

“The thing about it is … we have five returning starters on offense, and we have five returning starters on defense. The bad thing is, it’s the same five.”

Staying healthy is the main concern for the Panthers, he said. Motivation also is a big thing for the coaches.

“We went against the LHSAA rules last week,” Delcambre said. “I guess you’d say it’s a self-imposed thing. We had two scrimmages. We scrimmaged Ascension Episcopal in Youngsville, and the next day, because we’re trying to motivate our kids, we scrimmaged our volleyball team, and we won, 21-20. The reason that happened — she has 24 kids and we have 26. We had the upper edge. We had an extra couple of guys to get in. And the good thing about it, we all came out healthy. Everybody’s good. Nobody got hurt.”

Antoine said he expects Westgate to have a pretty good team, though they haven’t been able to get in much work outdoors because of the weather.

“We’re pretty much an arena team right now because every time we’ve got to practice, we have to go inside,” Antoine said. 

The Tigers lost 24 seniors, and bring back seven on both sides of the ball.

“We’re working on some things, the biggest thing right now is just (pass) route running with our guys,” he said. “Our guys are struggling running routes past 10 yards. Anything that we run past 10 yards, they’re struggling. I told (one player), ‘Son, count to 10.’ I said, ‘What comes after 10?’ He said, ‘Jack, queen, king.’”

Schlicher said Hutson gave him some advice for the speech since he’s won it so many times.

“He said, ‘The first thing you need to do is make sure that you don’t go on Google’ (looking for football-related jokes),” Schlicher said. “I said, ‘Well, why not go on Google?’ He said, ‘Because Artie and Ryan and Ananias and Trent, they’re all going to go to Google and get some jokes, and they’re all going to beat you to the punch, especially if you go last.’

“I said, ‘Well, what about Darcy?’ He said, ‘Well, this is Darcy’s diamond anniversary for education, so he doesn’t even know what the Internet is.’”

Schlicher said Hutson also told him to do what he could to lose, because he lost to Delcambre last year and the Yellow Jackets had a good season. Hutson added that if Schlicher won the award, that would be OK too since he could then blame a poor season on his athletic director.

Finding out from defensive coordinator Josh Lierman that the Jackets have four starters on offense and four on defense back from a team that came within a couple of points of reaching the third round of the playoffs last season, he decided to petition the LHSAA to play eight-man football this year.

On a serious note, he said Hutson expressed appreciation for the fans and for Schlicher taking his place at the luncheon.

“The kids and the coaches have been working very hard, very hard,” Schlicher said. “We appreciate everybody, we hope to see everybody at the jamboree. It’s a great community event. We all pull together and support our kids.”

Delahoussaye talked about a new kicker, who transferred in from Texas with no football experience but lots of soccer training. The kicker struggled to make field goals in special teams drills, the coach said, and finally after about 10 tries made one, and all the players started cheering.

“We start looking, and Carlos is gone,” Delahoussaye said. “He had took his shirt off and his pads off and he’s running down the field, yelling, ‘Goal! Goal!’ 

“I said, ‘No, Carlos, that’s not how we do it. We just take the field goal and go to the sidelines.’”

Loreauville has its youngest team since he’s been there, with 18 underclassmen, and will start an eighth grader at quarterback for Friday’s jamboree game against Jeanerette.

“When you have a kid that young at quarterback, it’s going to make for an interesting game,” he said. “I know Coach Ananias is always talking about how young his team is, but coach, I’ve got an eighth grader that’s playing against you Friday.”

“You see how it feels, huh?” Johnson shot back. His team started an eighth grader at QB last season and has nine seventh and eighth graders on the roster this year.

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