Tragedy to triumph: Death of defensive coordinator provides motivation for East Iberville

1 month ago The Advocate 0

East Iberville’s 45-19 win over Central Private last week helped elevate the profile of a team most people don’t know a lot about. The St. Gabriel-based Tigers are inching closer to the Top 10 in Class 1A in the Louisiana Sports Writers Association’s statewide poll.

The win also gives EIHS (4-0) its best start since 2011, which is very notable. The Tigers were winless in 2013, 2014 and 2015 and won one game in 2016 before Ron LeJeune returned to East Iberville for a second stint as head coach. 

But there is more to the motivation for the Tigers than the typical desire to win. The sudden death of defensive coordinator Gary Burnett due to an illness over the summer has made an already solid defense even more determined to excel. The Tigers have limited opponents to 12.3 points per game, including a shutout win over Slaughter Community Charter in Week 1.

“The defense has been playing really good,” LeJeune said. “Obviously our defensive coordinator, coach (Gary) Burnett died suddenly. Our defense has been playing hard for that.”

Burnett, a long-time coach in the Baton Rouge area, was the East Iberville’s defensive coordinator in 2018. His coaching career included numerous stops, including a stint as head coach at Glen Oaks.

“Gary and I had been friends since 2002,” LeJeune said. “We coached against each other for a long time when he was at Glen Oaks and I was at Belaire. Not only was he a really good coach, but a good friend.”

After serving as an assistant to Burnett a year ago, Clark Nocentelli stepped into Burnett’s role. He said the toughest part is not having Burnett’s daily presence and wisdom. 

“He (Burnett) was a friend of mine,” Nocentelli said. “We worked together in 2006 at Redemptorist. A lot of the stuff I learned, I learned from him at Redemptorist. We got back together in 2017 at East Iberville. I’d give anything to have him back. His absence has been the biggest thing.”

The transition from Burnett to Nocentelli has looked seamless as the Tigers continue attacking opponents with their 4-2-5 defense. The philosophy is the same and Nocentelli said the players’ familiarity with the scheme has paid dividends.

“The main goal is to stop the run and bring as much pressure as possible,” Nocentelli explained. “We try to emphasize everybody getting to the ball, getting as many people to the ball as we can.”

In addition to dominant play from the defense, continuity is another strong suit for East Iberville. The Tigers have only six seniors. The rest of the players have been with the program since LeJeune’s first year.

“Our first year, we had six guys who had played football,” LeJeune said. “We got our numbers up the first year and now we have about 52 kids. Our big class is our junior class (16). The juniors don’t know anything, but us.”

Week 5 is a bye week for the Tigers. East Iberville hosts St. John on Oct. 11. East Iberville was without five starters in the win over Central Private and two other starters played through injury.

LeJeune said he hopes the week off helps with the injuries so the Tigers can pursue the two main goals they have for the season.

“Our goals are to win district and make it past the second round of the playoffs,” LeJeune said. “The last two years we’ve lost in the second round. Once we get past that, go as far as we can and hopefully give ourselves a shot to play in the dome.”