Entering the 2012 high school football season, the St. Thomas More Cougars found themselves in an unusual position.
No one outside of their locker room were expecting them to enjoy the type of success they’ve had in years past, In fact, the vast majority of those following high school football believed the Cougars were quite likely to endure its first losing season since 1985.
The low expectations for St. Thomas More can be attributed to the fact they were set to take the field this season with only three of 22 starters returning from the 2011 season and it was the loss of so much talent and experience that had people believing 2012 would be a down year for the Cougars.
“We knew going in that we had Brandon (Bergeron) coming back that was a positive for us,” STM head coach Jim Hightower said. “To know that we had a veteran quarterback that knew what he had to do returning this season helped give us a positive outlook on the season.”
The 2012 season ended up being anything but a down year for the Cougars, who overcame a 1-3 start by winning six games in a row to end the regular season and finish 7-3, as District 5-4A champions and advance to the playoffs where they were defeated in the second round by St. Augustine.
“We just never got ahead of ourselves,” Hightower said. “We all knew that we had a lot of work to do, but we just took it step by step and one day at a time. We tried to get better every day and our kids did a good job of that.”
For his efforts and the efforts of his team, Hightower has been voted as The Daily Advertiser’s 2012 All-Acadiana Coach of the Year.
“I’d say it’s a surprise (to be named Coach of the Year),” Hightower said. “But I would also say that it’s not just me. Our staff did a great job this past season. I’m really fortunate to work with such a great staff. This award is a tribute to their work as much as anything.”
The season turned out to be a record breaking one for the Cougars, as receiver Seth Kelley became the school’s first-ever to catch for 1,000 yards in a season and fellow wide-out Jake Juneau set a new school receiving record for touchdowns in a season with 15.
“We saw great potential in Seth and Jake,” Hightower said. “With them we felt that we had guys to handle the skill positions, so it was just a matter of building the reason of the team around them and Brandon.”
Although the season didn’t end with the school’s first trip to the dome, Hightower wouldn’t trade the experience of this year for anything.
“I will tell you that this year was the most satisfying season I’ve had as a coach,” Hightower said. “It was satisfying because I felt we played up to our potential. Our kids played hard and practiced hard every day and I couldn’t have asked for any more than that from them.”
Follow assistant sports editor Eric Narcisse on Twitter @tdanarcisse.