When I was a senior at Archbishop Rummel, the De La Salle Cavaliers defeated the Raiders in a jamboree.
That night, two Cavaliers, including Kevin Kytle, class of 1976, rolled my house.
Until 37-year-old Ryan Manale arrived on campus six years ago, football highlights for the Cavaliers had been sparse. All that has changed.
Manale has a singular focus. His wife and his parents say he doesn’t really care about the quality of the car he drives or having a lot of free time outside football. It is all about getting De La Salle on a loftier perch than it has ever been.
So, there was Manale after a 28-14 Division II semifinal win over St. Thomas More, telling his team that he prayed that he would get one more chance to coach them this season.
Prayers help, and so do good football players.
Quarterback Julien Gums and tailback Kendall Collins are the stars of an offense that chooses to run through, not away from, opposing defenses.
In that semifinal round win over the Cougars, the Cavaliers’ offense reeled off running plays exclusively for 68 yards and a touchdown that ate more then eight minutes on the clock.
The Cavaliers may wear maroon, but they are a blue collar group, as is their head coach.
When they moved into their Metairie home, Manale asked his bride Tami for one thing: a football coach’s man cave.
Plays are drawn over several of the white boards that hang in the room. A projector screen hangs from the ceiling.
Tami wanted Ryan home more, and he is, but his mind is still on a football field.
“The only thing I asked for, it doesn’t matter what you do in there, just give me some media room space,” said Manale to his wife. “I will be home more than I am now. She said, ‘You are home, but you are still working to 2 or 3 in the morning, I never see you.’ But, at least I am home, I tell her.”
Coaching has always been in Ryan’s blood. He played for Jay Roth, the winningest coach in the history of the New Orleans Catholic league, at Rummel. At Cleary Playground, supervisor Big Rob Alexander remembers Ryan being told by another coach that his 12- and 13-year-old team wasn’t very good.
It was a comment that coach would soon regret.
“He used to watch film like he does now,” Alexander said. “He would get a VCR and get someone to film the game. Back then, playground football was still vanilla. They would run the ball and all. He comes out in a pistol formation, four wides, three wides. And, that same coach, we blew them out, he didn’t know what hit him.”
In the last few weeks, I have heard from more Cavaliers than I have in the last 30 years. They beam with pride.
On a Friday in early December, Kevin and his buddies from the class of 1976 have a tradition. They eat at a local steakhouse and then enjoy some Christmas cheer in the French Quarter.
But, this December, they will eat and head quickly to the Superdome.
“We not only changed a football team, we changed a school,” Manale told his players. The class of 1976 would agree.
Ed Daniels is sports director of ABC26 WGNO. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.