(Rick Hickman / Special to the American Press)
Last Modified: Tuesday, October 29, 2013 9:10 PM
They say what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.
That’s been the case for the LaGrange football team. The Gators opened up the season playing some of the best teams the state has to offer.
They started at Notre Dame, which is still undefeated. Then, they played Barbe, ranked No. 1 in Class 5 A at the time. After that, LaGrange took a trip to Baton Rouge to play University Lab, undefeated after eight weeks, now ranked No. 1 in Class 3A. To close out nondistrict play, the Gators played Calvary Baptist.
LaGrange lost each one of those games and its district opener at Rayne. But the five losses didn’t curb the team’s excitement or optimism about the season.
“The kids’ attitude has been excellent,” said LaGrange head coach Jules Sullen. “They understand that any time you want something out of life, you have to strive for it. It’s not going to come easy. Our kids were able to adapt to the schedule and we’re just thankful we’ve been winning the last couple weeks and it’s been paying off for us.”
Since the 0-5 start, LaGrange has won three consecutive games by an average margin of 25 points. The Gators are atop the District 4-4A standings with a 3-1 record.
“Since I’ve been at LaGrange, I’ve always played an extremely tough schedule,” Sullen said. “The key is to understand that’s just how it’s going to be at LaGrange. As far as the kids’ morale, we preach to them that the most important games are the district games. We’re not really concerned about our record. We’re only concerned about district and how we finish in district. If you can win half of your district games, you’ve got a great chance of getting in (the playoffs).”
In the short term, Sullen is bent on winning a district title and making a run in the playoffs. But he has grand plans for the program that go beyond district championships.
“We thought for us to be successful and make a playoff run, we had to play some of the top quality teams in the state,” Sullen said. “We’re at the point where we don’t want to only compete with the local teams, we want to be known as a proficient high school program in the state of Louisiana. So that’s why we play such a tough nondistrict schedule.”
Even though LaGrange lost those early season games, Sullen said he saw plenty of promise.
“It started off against Notre Dame, a team that’s been in the state championship game the last couple years,” Sullen said. “We were down 21-0 and to come back in the second half and the score was 21-14 with about three minutes left in the game, that says a lot about our ballclub. It was then, in the second half, when they realized they can really play with the upper-echelon teams.”
The Gators have two more weeks of regular-season play with games against Opelousas and Washington-Marion in a district Sullen called “wide open.” But for now, those nondistrict losses seem to be leading to district wins.