LIONS STARTS NEW ERA UNDER SALTER
Covington High football and the name Salter. The two are inextricably tied to great tradition and success. Lions' faithful are hoping that Covington catches lightning in a bottle with another Salter.
For 33 years, Jack Salter presided over one of the best football programs in Louisiana at Covington. Salter retired after the 1995 season with a 259-110-8 record (.700 winning percentage). His teams won 15 district championships, made the state finals four times and won the 4A state championship in 1976 when his Lions compiled a 15-0 record. Covington reached the 4A state championship game in 1975, 1981 and 1987 under Salter as well.
Salter saw over 75 of the players he mentored go on to receive college scholarships. The stadium at Covington is named after Salter. Jack Salter was inducted into the Allstate Sugar Bowl Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame in 2012.
Attempting to carry on the family and school legacy with Covington football is Greg Salter, the grandson of the legendary coach for whom the stadium is named.
Salter was promoted from special teams coordinator to the head post after Malter Scobel was dismissed in the offseason. Scobel, who did a solid job, is now the head coach at district rival Hammond.
A year ago, Scobel led the Lions to a 6-4 record and a playoff appearance. Overall, the Lions reached the playoffs in four of five years under Scobel but the school clearly wants more.
While Scobel, Allie Smith and Darryl Graham did performed respectably following the elder Salter's retirement, Covington has never approached the success achieved under the Hall of Fame coach. Greg Salter knows why.
"It is very difficult to replace a legendary coach," Salter said. "All of the coaches who followed my grandfather were good coaches. We hope to build on a great tradition."
The younger Salter hopes to change the culture and he has a good nucleus to work with.
Covington returns seven offensive starters to its spread attack from a playoff team that went 6-4 a year ago. Senior quarterback Dylan Savarese (6'0 175) is back to run the offense and he has a trio of experienced receivers to throw to, including seniors Jeremy Haar (6'2, 175) and Mitreon Brumfield (5'8, 145). Junior Cordara Laurant (5'8, 148) is back as well.
"Dylan has a good grasp of what we want to do," Salter said. "His ability to read defenses and understand the quickness of the game at the varsity level is important. He is a very accurate passer and commands our playbook. Haar has really stepped up for us. We are looking for big things for him. He is a basketball player who is a very good athlete."
The offensive line features a pair of returning starters in senior left tackle Alexander Hatcher (6'3, 245) and senior right guard Jathan Cutrer (5'10, 245). Other starters include senior Austin Bordelon (5'11, 210), junior Colt Grow (5'8, 200) and sophomore Adam Joiner (6'3, 245). The tight end is senior Mason Bourgeois (5'11, 189).
"Hatcher is a two-year starter," Salter said. "He is very athletic with good feet. Cutrer moves very well. All of our lineman move well which we should benefit from."
Replacing a three-year starter in running back Deonte Casnave will be difficult but junior Joshua Bickham (5'8, 200) is strong and talented at fullback. Bickham is a national state power lifting champion and record holder. Senior C.J. Sims (5'8, 150) is the tailback.
"Bickham is our horse in terms of strength but Sims will be our main guy," Salter said. "He is not very big but he has a huge heart. He plays bigger than he is."
The defense is experienced, with nine returning starters to its 4-3 base.
"Our defense is our strength," Salter said. "Our entire defensive front is back. We ought to be good against the run. We are senior-laden on defense. Having so many returning players is very beneficial. We have some really good people back. That really helps on and off the field and with our confidence."
The defensive line has three seniors with experience, including top Division I recruit Garrald McDowell (6'2, 255). LSU, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Kansas State, Miami, Mississippi State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Ole Miss, Tennessee and USC are among the suitors for McDowell. In 2012, McDowell had 84 tackles, including 18 for losses and 10 1/2 sacks. Broderick Bankston (6'0, 235) and Hunter Toomer (5'11, 275) are other solid starters.
"McDowell is a special talent, a guy who all offenses must focus on and account for," Salter said. "He makes other players around him better and we have other very good players."
There are four seasoned linebackers, led by seniors Chance Barney (6'1, 228), Hewson Knight (6'0, 200), Colt Clemons (6'2, 210) and Isaiah Carter (5'10, 210). The secondary is solid as well, led by seniors Andrew Breeland (5'10, 185) and B.J. Armstrong (6'0, 175), along with senior Lamarco Jacobs and sophomore Tyler Smith (5'11, 176). Junior George Brister (6'1, 195) is very good at safety.
"Breeland was first team all-district and he is our defensive quarterback," Salter said. "You could throw the leather helmet on him and his game wouldn't change a bit. Both corners played quite a bit last year. We are looking for big things out of Brister. He has very good athletic ability."
Kyle Crouchet is the punter while the new kickers will be Ian Connelly and Ryan Rabalais.
The schedule is quite daunting.
The Lions open with a trio of home games against very tough opponents. The season starts against Holy Cross, a 4A semifinalist a year ago, followed by 2010 state champion Franklinton (4A) in week two. St. Augustine, perhaps the most talented team in 5A, comes calling in week three before the Lions open district play at Northshore in week four on September 27.
The Lions travel to arch-rival Slidell in week five before Ponchatoula and Fontainebleau in weeks six and seven. The city showdown against St. Paul's is at the Cow Palace on October 25. Covington travels to face its former coach in Scobel at Hammond in week nine before closing the regular season at 2011 and 2012 semifinalist Mandeville (5A) in week 10.
"We will know where we stand after our three non-district games," Salter said. "Holy Cross is very good. We used to play them from around 2001-2004. Franklinton was rebuilding last year and they are better this year. They will be tough. St. Augustine is as talented as it gets. Coach Crutchfield coached me (defensive backs coach) when I was a senior at Covington."
Crutchfield is a former Covington High player as well.
Salter understands the challenge of trying to conquer 6-5A for the first time in many years.
"St. Paul's has dominated this league with a 29-game win streak," Salter said. "Mandeville is proven as well. They are the teams to beat, the big dogs in the district. We feel we can play with them. Ponchatoula will be solid with Coach Hank Tierney. We expect the other teams to be better. Coach Scobel will do good things at Hammond and Larry Favre is a proven coach taking over at Slidell. Fontainebleau and Northshore are always tough to deal with."
While Covington will attempt to topple St. Paul's from the top of 6-5A, the Lions will not compete with the Wolves in the 5A playoffs as a result of the split among non-select and select schools.
"You cannot control it," Salter said. "That's the way principals voted. The way it all fell with the numbers, I don't like it like it. I don't like it for us or for the others in 5A, who have just 10 teams on the select side. I think we'll see real quick whether it was a good move or not. We certainly enjoy competing with all schools in 5A."
While the good old days were prevalent during Jack Salter's tenure, the younger Salter feels he can restore the roar to the Lions' den.
"It was a different time and place when my grandfather coached," Salter said. "He did a magnificent job and we had a dominant program for about 50 years. The population has changed and schools have been added, making it more of a challenge, but we feel we can achieve excellence."
Betting against a coach named Salter at Covington High School is not a sound concept.