Too little of it, and you’re unlikely to reach your true potential.
Too much of it, and you may be in danger of not giving your opponent the proper respect.
That sweet spot can be hard to find at times, especially with a group as talented as this year’s Rummel Raiders. They’re rarely bashful during interviews and are never shy about letting their feelings be known on social media.
Many coaches would be quick to put a muzzle on their players, but first-year coach Nick Monica has allowed this team to be exactly who they are.
“Early on we worried (about being overconfident), but at this point we don’t,” Monica began. “You actually want them to feel a little confident going into this one. They’ve prepared well just about every week except for a couple, and that’s hard to get high school kids to do.
“They’ve been so motivated, we’ve had a good week of practice this week and they seem really focused and ready for the opportunity.”
That opportunity will come Friday night at 7 p.m. at Tulane’s Yulman Stadium when the undefeated Raiders (12-0) take on also unbeaten Catholic-B.R. (12-0) in the Division I championship game.
The two teams have seemingly been on a collision course all season as the only unbeaten squads in Division I, and they’re also two of only six unblemished units in the state.
Last week in the semifinals, the top-seeded Raiders disposed of Catholic League foe No. 4 Brother Martin, 37-27, after taking a 37-7 lead early in the fourth quarter. No. 2 Catholic held a precarious 7-0 advantage over No.3 John Curtis for much of their semifinal matchup before a late touchdown sealed a 14-0 victory.
Both teams have certainly seen their fair share of adversity throughout the season, but a veteran Rummel squad believes the confidence they have in themselves is well-justified due to the work they’ve put in.
“It’s just the 6 a.m. practices and everything we know we’ve worked for,” said senior running back Jaelen Sturgis regarding what makes the team believe in themselves. “We’re coming for everything we deserve.”
“It’s just the way we’re built — we’re built different,” Southern linebacker commit Aaron Thomas said. “We have a confidence that’s never matched and we always know that we’re better than the opponent.”
Thomas and the rest of the Rummel defense will have to prove as much one more time against their toughest test yet. Catholic has been unstoppable for much of the season heading into Friday’s game averaging 45.1 points per outing — and that includes last week’s season-low of 14 points.
The Bears have one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the state in senior Jackson Thomas, who has completed a staggering 72.9% of his passes going 161-of-221 for 2,046 yards with 23 touchdowns and just one interception. His primary target on the outside is senior receiver Jalen Toaston and another senior in Josh Parker leads the team in rushing with over 1,100 yards on the season.
They have topped the 50-point mark on six different occasions this season, and had two other games scoring over 40. Needless to say, Monica is well aware what the Bears’ offense is capable of.
“I think we’ve got eight or nine games of film on them and we’ve seen them punt 12 times,” he said. “They execute at a high level and they’re very, very good up front on the offensive line.”
Monica also noted Catholic’s stout defensive line, and their prowess in the trenches allowed them to out-power a John Curtis team that hadn’t been shut out in a playoff game since 1970.
Rummel is, of course, no stranger to the shutout, though, holding six of their opponents to zero offensive points. Two other teams also scored just three points while another scored seven, and the Raiders had another shutout going last week heading into the fourth quarter as Brother Martin’s only score to that point came on a pick-6.
A few defensive substitutions allowed the Crusaders to get going in the final quarter, but the Rummel defense had already established its dominance after its worst outing of the season in the quarterfinals surrendering 34 points to No. 8 St. Augustine.
“It felt good getting back to ourselves,” said 3-star safety Quinton “Pig” Cage, who has been a key cog in a defense allowing only 7.3 points per game. “Last week I was telling the guys we got our chemistry back. The bye week before St. Aug made us look bad — I won’t lie. But we’re back now and giving up 0 points (Friday).”
Such a performance would certainly result in a victory for the Raiders, particularly with an offense that has found its stride scoring 35 and 37 points with a total of 758 yards in their two playoff games.
The aforementioned Sturgis had three rushing touchdowns last week while the team rushed for nearly six yards per carry. Junior quarterback Kyle Wickersham was also an efficient 11-for-14 for 215 yards with a touchdown and an interception, and a similar outing could easily lead to the Raiders hoisting the Division I title they’ve coveted for so long.
“It would be amazing,” Thomas said. “I know coach Monica would be happy as a first-year coach, and I’ve been knowing coach for three years now and he’s taught me so many things about defense with coach Reed too. It’s been a great adventure with them and I’m proud to end it in a state championship and I know we’re going to take it home.”
“As bad as we want this as coaches, there’s some kids on this team that we really want this for who deserve it,” said Monica, who was an assistant on the Raiders’ staff when the team won back-to-back titles in 2012 and 2013.
“It motivates us to work harder for them because there’s some guys on this team we would really like to see holding that trophy.”