High School Football

With new coach, Lafayette looks for seamless transition

Lafayette football coach Carl Hayden (2010)
Lafayette football coach Carl Hayden (2010)

Lafayette's football team posed for photos under a roasting sun this week, smiling and talking positively about the upcoming season.

The Generals were a picture of optimism.

You would never know that they are on their third coach in four years, that their only experienced quarterback is temporarily on the shelf with an injury, or that completion of their new stadium appears to be behind schedule.

"No gray hairs have popped out yet," joked Lafayette Coach Carl Hayden, who looks even younger than his 27 years. "We think we can be a pretty good football team.

"We just need to stay calm, cool and collected and keep our eyes on the prize."

Hayden's taking over the reins has been a smooth transition. He was an assistant with the Generals for four years before moving up to the top spot after Rob Sayre resigned in late June to move into administration.

"Everything's the same. We just have a new leader," senior quarterback Matthew Britt said. "We have a lot of confidence in Coach Hayden."

Hayden has confidence in his players. He's especially high on his offensive skill people and defensive veterans.

Britt, who split time with Brett Durbin last season, was expected to start at quarterback this year. (Durbin graduated.) But Britt is out until at least mid-September with a knee injury.

Jeremy Smith, an untested junior, is now running the show. "He's learned a lot and grown a lot, and he's getting to the point where we're not missing a beat," Hayden said.

It helps that Smith has a strong supporting cast, including running backs Marlon Johnson, William "Bubba" Johnson, David Kenner, Shamon Brown and Zane Ramey, and receivers Andy Hampton, Tanner Napier and Nick Jeter.

Last year Lafayette's offense revolved around Eric Shaw Jr., who did a little of everything and had almost 2,000 all-purpose yards.

"This year we've got multiple backs, and that's dangerous for other teams," said senior lineman Trey Benson. "We can use any combination, and you never know what's going to happen."

Hayden agreed.

"We've got enough size if we want to pound it, and enough speed if we want to go outside," he said.

The Generals have to rebuild their offensive line, but Benson will help fill the holes, along with Kent Franklin and Garrett Peavler.

Defensively, Lafayette will count heavily on Benson and Hampton up front, Kenner at linebacker and Bubba Johnson at cornerback.

"Our defense should be good," Benson said. "We're fast to the ball and we like to crack heads pretty much."

Senior lineman Bruce Robinson will be a force when he returns from a knee injury.

Special teams figure to be one of the Generals' best assets. Matt Green is an accomplished place-kicker and punter. Marlon Johnson is an exceptional kick returner.

Hayden's main concern?

"We're kind of young," he said. "There's no substitute for experience. But we're trying to put them in situations in practice and scrimmages where they'll learn."

Lafayette's main goal is to improve enough between now and November that it can snap a seven-game playoff losing streak.

It would be especially sweet if the Generals could get a post-season victory in their new stadium. Hayden can't say for sure when Lafayette will play on its yet-to-be installed artificial turf.

"I will say we will definitely be the first team to break open the new stadium," he said. "We will play games there this season."