And within the state, one of the most fertile recruiting territories is the River Parish area, composed of St. James, St. John the Baptist, and St. Charles parishes.
Five members of Tiger Rag's Dirty Dozen hail from the River Parishes: Tyson Jackson and Quinn Johnson of West St. John High School in Edgard, Derron Thomas and Reggie Joseph of East St. John in Reserve, and Darryl Richard of Destrehan. Hahnville's Darius Reynaud also landed honorable mention.
But this area has seen its share of great football players over the years. Last season LSU gained two exceptional freshmen from the River Parishes, All-American safety LaRon Landry and freshmen All-SEC defensive end Kirston Pittman, natives of Ama and Reserve respectively. And of course there's All-American cornerback Corey Webster, who calls Vacherie home.
The list of former River Parish football players who went on to college success is a long and rather distinguished one. There's former Tiger running back Rondell Mealey, who prepped at Destrehan.
Former LSU All-SEC defensive lineman A.J. Duhe attended East St. John before taking his talents to Tiger Stadium and eventually the NFL. The most recent addition to this list is former Destrehan quarterback Edward Reed, who earned All-American status and won a national championship with the Miami Hurricanes and is now a Pro Bowl safety with the Baltimore Ravens.
Hardly a metropolitan area, the three parishes are nestled a few miles upriver from New Orleans. It seems natural that in a blue-collar region dominated by sugarcane fields and chemical plants, some of the state's finest football players are grown. One local coach believes he knows the reason.
"Well, the thing is in River Parish football, we have a unique expectation for success," says Frank Monica, football coach at St. Charles Catholic High School in Laplace, and a native of nearby Garyville. "For kids here you're expected to go out because your parents went out and played, and football has always been a tradition here. There's lots of support and all the teams here usually play before packed houses."
Monica has seen more than most coaches, having coached at a major 5A program (Jesuit in New Orleans), and also at the college level at Tulane. Yet he says there is a unique pressure on programs in the River Parishes.
"Not to make a cliché, but here you're just expected to have a good program," he says. "The people here play because they love the sport, and they play to win."
And win they have. Two teams from the area captured state championships in 2003. The Hahnville Tigers dethroned longtime 5A powerhouse Evangel in the finals, and the West St. John Rams rolled through class 2A en route to the title.
The Rams featured a bevy of college recruits, including defensive end Tyson Jackson and linebacker Quinn Johnson, both LSU commitments.
"Tyson is a big kid, 6-7 280 and I look for him to play defensive end at LSU for Coach Saban," says Rams coach Laury Dupont, who has enjoyed an excellent string of success in his time at the small public school in Edgard. "He's the real deal. He's quick, he's strong and he's fast, and he's got a mean streak in him and he brings something to the table every time. Quinn is just raw-boned. He's big (6-3, 230), strong and his future is ahead of him, whether he plays linebacker or fullback."
"Tyson is just a mountain of a kid," says Monica, who had the unfortunate task of game-planning around the duo when West St. John and St. Charles squared off during the season. "And some big kids don't have it all but he does. He has a tremendous motor. I'd like to be his agent because that kid has a very bright future."
"Quinn is a super athlete," adds Monica. "He has excellent foot-speed. We tried to run away from him but we never could get away."
Across the Mississippi, Coach Larry Dauterive has turned East St. John in another fine program. A veteran coach with both college and professional experience Dauterive quickly turned a 3-7 outfit into a playoff team in his first season, led by dominating defensive players Kirston Pittman and Vegas Franklin (who signed with Miami). In 2003 Dauterive again had the Wildcats in the 5A playoffs, but this time with an offense that averaged 52.7 points per game. East St. John featured running back Derron Thomas and receiver Reggie Joseph both committed to Miami and Colorado respectively, yet the team's best player may be junior quarterback Ryan Perriloux, who is expected to be one of the top QB prospects in the nation for the class of 2005.
"When I came here they were like 3-7, and we went 8-3 last year and 10-2 this year," says Dauterive. "So we're building it here, and we needed some good mortar and brick guys. It's cyclical I guess. I think they've always had good players here, we're just trying to get the right combination. Out here, you're playing at the highest level, you're at the highest you can go."
In fact right now you can't get much higher than the Hahnville Tigers, the defending 5A state champions. Coach Lou Valdin lost LaRon Landry but his team didn't skip a beat. This year the program's top senior is WR/RB Darius Reynaud, who is receiving attention from LSU, West Virginia, Oregon State, Colorado and South Florida.
"First of all, he's a tremendous athlete," Valdin says of Reynaud, who rushed for over 700 yards in leading Hahnville through the playoffs. "As good an athlete as I've ever been around. He's fast, he's strong, he can jump, and he's a pretty unselfish athlete, because he would rather play receiver than tailback but he played tailback this year to help the team out."
Valdin sees big things for Reynaud as an inside receiver in college. He also says the success of freshman All-American LaRon Landry didn't surprise him one bit.
"Everybody asks me ‘are you surprised he's this good as a freshman?' No. He is the real deal because he is just nasty and he fears nothing. I think it helped him that he was a quarterback, then he played DB, then he played quarterback, so he understood coverages, but then he learned how to beat
Back on the east bank of St. Charles Parish the Destrehan Wildcats have another remarkable player of their own, defensive tackle Darryl Richard. The 6'3 285-pounder is not only an excellent player who choose from the top programs in the country, but also an honor student who will compete for valedictorian with a 4.0 GPA.
"We always worry about helping out the kids who need helping out, but Darryl is just one of those kids that keeps bouncing along," says Wildcats coach Stephen Robichaux. "He's a class act, probably the best kid I've ever been around as far as getting what he needs to get done and as far as leadership. Ed Reed was probably the best athlete we ever coached and a great kid, great guy, but as far as the total package, it's Darryl."
Next season all six of these players will be moving on with their lives at different schools all over the country. Yet they will all carry with them the pride of the talent hot bead that the River Parishes region has become. But back home there will be another group of kids working hard to become bigger, stronger, faster and better. That's a scary idea for the other high schools in Louisiana.