Morgan City Tigers set to begin Dennis Lorio era
By GEOFF STOUTE
New Morgan City head coach Dennis Lorio has said it multiple times.
The Tigers are “in” last place and trying to work their way up from the bottom.
What the new coach is referring to is Morgan City’s 0-4 finish in District 8-4A action a year ago.
After starting the season 4-0, the Tigers stumbled to six straight losses, including all four district contests, to finish the season 4-6.
“They were in last place last year,” Lorio said earlier this month. “We’re going to try to fix that.”
Lorio was brought in during the offseason after then-Morgan City head coach Brandon Nowlin resigned following a three-year stay at the school to take a position as the tight ends coach at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux.
Since coming on board, the veteran coach, who won Class 5A’s first title during the first of two stints at Thibodaux High School, has assembled a coaching staff that includes individuals with some impressive credentials.
In addition to the lone coach to return from last year’s squad is Duriel Singleton, who will coach defensive backs and wide receivers this year. New to this year’s staff are Eddie Pleasant, who will work with the defensive backs; Tim Didros, who will help with linebackers; Don Jones, who along with Lorio will work with the offensive line and quarterbacks; defensive coordinator Gary Burnett; and running backs coach Jimmy Agent.
Jones comes to Morgan City with more than 230 wins as a high school football coach under his belt. He also has previous experience as the quarterback coach at then-University of Southwestern Louisiana.
“He’s very knowledgeable,” Lorio said.
Burnett owns six state championship rings, one as defensive coordinator at Thibodaux High under Lorio and five more as the defensive line coach at John Curtis.
“There aren’t many guys with six championship rings,” Lorio said.
Burnett also has head coaching experience at Glen Oaks and Thibodaux.
New to Morgan City this year will be a separate freshman football program, which will be led by head coach Gerald Huber and assistant coach Anthony Garrison.
Lorio said the goal is to have a freshman, a junior varsity and a varsity squad.
“That’s what you have to have to compete in the 4A level,” he said.
Lorio said the short-term goal for the squad is to win a district game and then after that, a winning season by notching six wins.
The Morgan City head coach said with the new format for high school playoffs, where teams are divided into select and nonselect brackets for the postseason, there is a possibility the Tigers could make the playoffs with five wins. Six wins, he said, should guarantee a playoff berth.
“When you haven’t done something in 15 years, that’s a big goal right there,” he said. “Make the playoffs.”
Lorio said the greatest challenge his squad faces at the moment is depth, and he said that players could see action on both sides of the ball.
Morgan City has two dual-threat quarterbacks in junior Jalen Jones and senior Kolbi Chatman, who are vying to replace departed senior Hoang Nguyen.
Nguyen, now a receiver on the Nicholls State University football team, had led the Morgan City offense for the past two years and earned second-team All-District 8-4A honors as a senior.
Although Eric Walker, a second-team all-district running back a year ago graduated, Morgan City does return weapons from a year ago at tailback in junior Kevon Marsh and sophomore Jacolbi Francois. Chatman will join them at tailback, while junior Anthony Rink is penciled in at fullback.
Lorio called Marsh, “our best all-around back.”
Because both Jones and Chatman are candidates for time in the backfield, that could leave the Tigers with options for different play calls.
“We’re not going to be able to just overwhelm people and have our way,” Lorio said. “We’ve got to be creative.”
Wide Receiver/Tight End
The Tigers return second-team all-district wide receiver, senior Malcolm Watkins, while Jones, a second-team all-district wide out a year ago, will see time at wide receiver along with Chatman.
At tight end, the Tigers must replace second-team all-district selection Luke Marino.
Candidates for the spot include sophomore Dustin Harris, Watkins, sophomores Phillip Hutchinson and Tiryce Oloney and Rink.
In the trenches, the Morgan City coaching staff is working Rink and University of Louisiana at Lafayette commitment, senior Daryl Johnson at tackle, seniors Ben Vining and Joseph “Turtle” Jones at the guard positions and sophomore Hunter Vining at center.
Sophomore Ian Martin and Tristan Landry also will be looked upon for possible playing time on the offensive line.
Although they lost second-team all-district performers center Thomas Hutchinson and tackle Drake Lajaunie to graduation, Lorio said he felt the squad’s offensive line could be an area of strength for the squad.
Morgan City will feature a multiple defense that combines a 4-2-5 look and possible three- and five-man fronts.
Lorio said he will be looking to improve a defense that surrendered 39 points a contest in district.
A team “can’t win with that,” he said. “That’s how you get in last place.”
Because of the movement of the different fronts, Johnson, a second-team all-district selection a year ago, will play both defensive end and defensive tackle, while Joseph Jones and Ben Vining are options for the Tigers at defensive tackle along with junior Arnette Brashear, sophomore Clifton Escort and Oloney, all who could see time at defensive end.
From last year’s squad, the Tigers must replace first-team all-district defensive linemen Hunter Harrington, who graduated.
Rink returns as a starter for the Tigers, while others that are candidates at linebacker include sophomore Dezin Young and Escort.
Gone from last year’s squad is second-team all-district selection DeVontae Gabriel, who graduated.
Jalen Jones and Marsh are both returning starters in the Tigers’ secondary at cornerback. Marsh was a second-team all-district selection a year ago.
The Tigers will be looking to those two as well as sophomore Nhirobi Dewey and Humphrey as options at cornerback.
At safety, the Tigers’ coaches have their eyes on Chatman, Francois, Watkins and junior Dakota McCloy
Gone from last year’s secondary is Walker, a first-team selection at defensive back.
The Tigers will return their kicker and punter, senior Sergize Flores, this season. Flores was a first-team all-district punter a year ago.
“We studied a little film from last year,” Lorio said. “There’s definitely a strong leg and good potential.”
Hutchinson will serve as the team’s deep snapper.
Lorio has identified special teams as something that was a glaring problem for the Tigers in a few of their games last year.
“We’re hoping that we get more close games, and then in the close games, the kicking game is usually the determining factor,” he said.
Morgan City’s schedule features contests against several teams who advanced to the postseason a year ago in Class 5A Central, Class 3A state semifinalist Livonia, Class 3A Rayne and Class 1A White Castle.
The Tigers’ District 8-4A opponents remain the same following redistricting and feature defending district champion Vandebilt Catholic, who advanced to the Class 4A quarterfinals a year ago; as well as another playoff participant in 2012 in Assumption. South Terrebonne and Ellender also compete in the district.
Morgan City will be in action in the nightcap of Friday’s St. Mary Parish Jamboree in Morgan City when it faces Berwick High at Tiger Stadium. The game will follow the 6 p.m. contest between West St. Mary and Hanson.