By Malcolm Butler
Jerrod Baugh has been coaching high school football for more than two decades.
And even the veteran, grizzled Ruston High Bearcats Boss is having to consciously work through all of the peripheral noise and non-football components surrounding this week’s state title game.
Baugh and the top-seeded Bearcats leave this morning heading south where they will face No. 3 seed Destrehan Friday at 7 p.m. at the Superdome. Ruston is looking for its first state title in football since 1990.
“I have tried to get past all of the other stuff surrounding this week,” said Baugh following Wednesday’s final practice at Hoss Garrett Stadium. “It’s like I tell the players, I have been coaching for over 20 years and even I have to try to filter out all of the noise; consciously put myself in the position on how I am going to handle it.
“I know if I am having to do those things, then these high school-aged kids are absolutely going to have to do it. I don’t know what point that will be for me. I am trying to get past it. As the kids transition into more of a game-mode (today) and Friday, then I will mentally handle all of the things that are going on.”
Following a pep rally last night at James Field at Hoss Garrett Stadium, the Bearcats are going to load the buses this morning, head through a “parade route” in downtown Ruston, and then finally leave the city limits heading for Baton Rouge where they will practice at LSU this afternoon.
“I told them at the beginning of the week that I wanted them to have fun, but to stay focused,” said Baugh. “They have earned everything that comes along with this. You just have to keep it in perspective. Enjoy a moment, then push it to the side and refocus on what it is that you need to get taken care of.”
Baugh admitted that its impossible to treat this week like just any other week, although the focus has to remain the same.
“As much as a coach we would like to say we want to keep it like its a week one ball game … that’s unrealistic,” he said. “I want them to absolutely enjoy it. We just need to be able to filter all of that stuff out and the closer we get to game time, we really need to reel in all of that stuff and be focused (on the game). There are going to be a lot of distractions around everything; where you are playing for one. If we aren’t completely focused on what we need to take care of then that in itself could mess us up.I think this group will be able to do that.”
So when does that flip switch for Baugh and the Bearcats? When are they truly able to focus on just football? On just trying to win a state title and bring back a trophy to Lincoln Parish?
“We will get a little closer (today) to getting back to reality,” said Baugh. “I think it will be good when its just us as a group on the road. Reality will probably hit when we go watch Ouachita Christian against Vermilion Catholic game tonight at 7 p.m. We will get a chance to get into the Superdome, and they will really see the atmosphere and some of the things we have been talking about this week.
“And then we will get a chance to sleep on that. Once we go to the Saints practice facility Friday for walk-thru, that will be even more secluded … it will be really just us as a football team. The clock will start ticking and it will seem like it will move really fast at that point, but I think it will be a progression of things. Once we get on the bus and head to the Superdome, it will be a 15 minute ride down the road. We will get there, get taped and then it will be time to kickoff.”
And the Bearcats will have a chance to knock off yet another team that has handed Ruston some heart-breaking losses the past few years. Ruston has already defeated Neville, West Monroe and Zachary — three teams that handed this senior class losses over the last few years.
Now standing in the way is Destrehan, the team that knocked Ruston out of the playoffs in both 2020 and 2021.
Although Baugh’s focus is 100 percent on his players and this year’s team, a win on Friday night would have some personal significance for him. Baugh has never been a part of a staff as a head coach or assistant coach that has won a state title.
The closest he came was in 2008 and 2009 when he was an assistant coach at Longview (Texas) High School, teams that lost in the state title games in Waco.
“I told our coaches that I have been to a couple of these and hadn’t won them,” he said. “It sucks. It’s a bad way for the season to end.”
Just one more reason that Baugh will have his Bearcats focused and dialed in come Friday night in New Orleans.
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