Last season, Newman quarterback Jabiari Tyler threw for 2,242 yards and 37 touchdowns, breaking the record of 36 scores that he set in 2012. You might recognize the previous record holder—a quarterback by the name of Peyton Manning. Tyler only threw four interceptions all season and added 673 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground.
In 2013, Tyler was named All-District Offensive Player of the Year, New Orleans All-Metro Small Schools Offensive Player of the Year, and All-State for Class 2A—all for the second straight year—bringing home 2A Outstanding Offensive Player honors in the process.
But stats, individual awards and All-State honors don’t really move the needle for him.
“My motivation every year is that we haven’t won the state championship,” Tyler said Wednesday after the Greenies’ practice—a sentiment echoed by senior tailback Kendall Bussey Jr., an honorable-mention All-State player in 2013 who has committed to play at Nebraska next year.
“Like Jay said, any other accolade means nothing unless we come out here and win a state championship for Newman,” Bussey said.
Head coach Nelson Stewart appreciates his stars’ ambition, but tries very hard to make sure his team stays grounded.
“I always tell them this: you can dream big, but focus small,” Stewart said. “All we care about is the next one. That’s what we preach to these guys—win the day, focus.”
Still, when you return a potent offensive tandem like Tyler and Bussey, it’s hard not to dream big. The duo has been playing together “since maybe seven or eight years old,” according to Bussey, whose 10.9 yards per carry in 2013 set a school record. That history has led to an impressive chemistry between them.
“[After] about nine, 10 years playing together, we know what to look for from each other,” Bussey said. “I know what he’s going to do, I know what he sees, he knows what I see. That helps a lot.”
In addition to their chemistry with each other, Stewart believes that Tyler and Bussey have grown by learning from a stretch of talented skill players for the Greenies—and that they’re paying it forward now.
“We’ve been very fortunate over the past few years that we had Ronnie Vinson, who really taught a talent like Odell Beckham,” Stewart said. “Odell was a mentor to Justin [Harrell, Newman’s leading receiver in 2013], and then Justin was a mentor to both Jabiari and Kendall. And now you see the same thing, as those two have started mentoring some of the guys that are coming through, like Tyler Addison and Elbert Thomas.
“There’s been a lot of teaching involved, but I think it started as guys just passed their work habits down.”
Of course, every football team relies on more than just two players, no matter how good that duo may be. Stewart praised his offensive and defensive lines, both anchored by senior Drew Drouilhet, an honorable-mention All-State selection like Bussey in 2013.
“This is one of our strongest teams in about 10 years,” Stewart said. “Our coaches have worked hard making sure they’re hitting the sleds.
“We’re not interested in finessing…We’ve got to improve throughout the season, but we do expect we’ll be better up front, and we’ll go as far as those guys can take us.”
The Greenies also return a core of experienced defenders in 2014—Drouilhet and senior defensive end Ronnie Lamarque, linebackers Jack Miller, Alex Abramson and Chris DeGenova and senior cornerbacks Nicky Alfonso and Elliot Sperling, who nabbed 10 interceptions in 2013 en route to garnering All-State honors.
Newman will look to bounce back from a tough end to the 2013 season, when a 35-28 loss to Riverside cost the Greenies the outright District 8-2A championship and a 28-26 loss to Opelousas Catholic in the regional round of the Division III playoffs meant an earlier-than-expected exit. Stewart doesn’t believe in “moral victories,” but thinks that the difficult finish has strengthened his team’s resolve for 2014.
“It’s never a blessing to lose,” he said, “but that may be what this group needed. When we do get to crunch time, the tight games, it’s the inches and those little moments that put you over the top.”
Still, even with a tough schedule on tap that includes a trip to St. James in Week 6 and a visit from Riverside in Week 7, Stewart is confident about the Greenies’ chances—and that confidence starts with experienced players like Bussey, Drouilhet and Tyler.
“You’re only as good as your seniors,” Stewart said.