Karr back looking around the country

You have to listen when Edna Karr football coach Don Wattigny tells you he has a good player on his team. For 38 years, Wattigny has coached a host of good players and placed a number of his Cougars in the college ranks. But Wattigny is careful to temper his praise with reality, so he isn't quite ready to label running back Ajenavi Eziemfe the next Karr star.

While admitting that Eziemfe has the size (6-foot-2, 215 pounds) and raw ability to reach great heights, the coach says there is still work to be done in the 2001 season.

"He's got a lot of untapped talent," says Wattigny. "He could be as good as he wants to be."

There should be little doubt as to how good Eziemfe is at the end of the 2001 season since he will be playing in one of the state's toughest districts. This year will mark the first for Karr in Class 4A, where they have been thrown into the meat-grinder league that includes O. Perry Walker, Carver and perennial power John Curtis. One factor in the Cougars' favor is that they have been playing these teams in pre-district competition for the last several years and know what lies ahead.

The son of a Nigerian-born father and New Orleans-native mother, Ajenavi accepts the challenge in front of him and is taking the recruiting process in stride. He looks forward to the heightened level of competition that awaits the Cougars this season and says he and his teammates have accepted the move up in class as a gauntlet thrown down before them.

"We're just looking at as more competition," says Eziemfe. "With this team, I don't think there's anything we can't accomplish if we put our minds to it."

That attitude will aid Cougars in their new league. Based in the heart of the Algiers neighborhood, the Karr program has enjoyed tremendous success at the Class 3A level, winning the state title in 1993 soon after being elevated from a junior high. The Cougars have advanced to the state title game twice since then, in 1995 and 1999.

Unlike the New Orleans public schools on the east bank of the Mississippi River, Karr has been able to establish and sustain success. Wattigny is at a loss to point out what he's doing differently than his counterparts in Crescent City proper, but it is a safe bet that the stability he's offered the program plays a big part in the school's athletic success.

"There's just been a great tradition here for a long time," Wattigny notes. "It's been a round since Karr was a junior high. One thing we've always stressed employing is having discipline in athletics and the classroom. If you have a kid who can do well on the football field, there's no reason he can't do the same in the classroom. It can apply the other way around, too.

"I also don't think we show any favoritism. We try to do what we think will put the kids in the best position to win, and that might not be what the parents think."   

Wattigny has not really strayed much from the strategy he's employed throughout his career. On defense, he's merely employed his philosophy to put players in the best position for them to make big plays. And if you're going to stop the Cougars, you had better find an answer for his power veer offense.

"(The kids) know the plays," the coach states. "In the veer, you have the dive back, a guy pitching the ball and a guy catching the ball. We've been doing the same thing for a while, so I think we know what we're doing every year. I believe if you do something well, you should stick to it."

This particular offensive game plan is tailor-made for Eziemfe, who Wattigny noticed improving in the backfield as the 2000 season wore on. Opponents will have to account for him as the dive back, the ball carrier or the passer when the halfback option is called.

Areas where the coach would like to see his senior back improve involve when he makes contact with a tackler. He says Eziemfe will have to fight the tendency to be a straight-up runner and take on defenders head on.

"I know I need to work on running through the line," says Eziemfe. "I shouldn't be giving the defense so much of a target to tackle."

Although Eziemfe is being recruiting as a tailback, his duties in the Karr backfield will include providing the lead block for John Decou, a small but dangerous runner who Wattigny can also employ in the passing game.

Another weapon for Karr in the passing game will be wide receiver Kenny Martin, another player who Wattigny says has the potential to play college football if he puts his mind to it.

Although Karr lost its chief defensive stoppers, Donovan Grayson (LSU) and Eric Henderson (Georgia Tech) to graduation, there is still ample experience returning from last year's 9-2 squad. Five sophomores were starters on the 2000 squad that was upset in the opening round of the state playoffs by West Feliciana, and Wattigny feels at least four of them will be Division I prospects in another year.

As for Eziemfe, he says he is intent on attending college out of state but has checked out two schools close to home. He took a summer school course on the Tulane campus and attended a 1-day camp there. As for LSU, he was still debating last week whether or not he wanted to attend a camp in Baton Rouge.

"It's nothing against LSU," he explained. "I just have to consider whether or not I will get more out of the camp or staying here and working out at school."

Eziemfe camped at Mississippi State last summer but is currently contemplating fall visits to Southern California, Kansas State, Georgia Tech, Michigan and either Florida or Miami. Of those schools, Florida, Georgia Tech and Southern California are very interested in Eziemfe. Clemson, Auburn, Missouri and Tulane are also in hot pursuit.

So why are Eziemfe's sights set on going far away from home?

"Being out of state give you a sense of responsibility," he explains. "Now, I depend on my mother for everything, and I think fending for my self away from home will prepare be better for life.

"Even if I was in Baton Rouge, I know my mom would be calling to check on me, and I'd probably have her come see me when I needed something."

So it seems that Ajenavi's parents may have to let their son live up to his name, which in Nigerian means: "let this child live."


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