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When Ferrante Dominique took the head coaching job at White Castle at age 24, he knew he could do something special at his alma mater.
Even though the town was and still is struggling with the closing of the sugar mills on which the it depends, Dominique said he knew he could use the football team as a shining example of what can be done when people work together.
That was five years ago, and just a half-decade later Dominique's vision is coming true, which is why the coach of the LHSAA State Farm Prep Classic Class 1A state champions is the Louisiana Sports Writers Association's Coach of the Year.
"It's no secret what we're going through," Dominique said. "I promised the mayor that I was going to get with these kids, and we were going to fulfill our dream to win the state championship. I knew having the energy of the town of White Castle, such a great place, behind us would help us."
Dominique is the outspoken coach of a team that features LSU commitment Ronald Martin at quarterback and a quiet but powerful running back in Tyre Bracken, whose 235 yards and two touchdowns on 31 carries helped lift the Bulldogs over Ouachita Christian 32-20 in the Louisiana Superdome on Saturday.
"Some of the players call him my dad," Martin said of his coach. "When a man like this comes in your life and helps you change, it's a good thing. He got to our hearts and we told him we were going to lead him to the Promised Land."
Both White Castle's stars are on the Class 1A all-state team as well, with Bracken joining Cedric Skinner of Oberlin and Riccie Gray of Delhi Charter in the running back corps and Martin winning the honor at athlete.
Skinner, the Class 1A Outstanding Player on offense, led the state with 317 rushes for 3,437 yards and 47 touchdowns this season, averaging 10.8 yards per carry to lead Oberlin to an undefeated regular season. He also lined up as the quarterback at times in the spread offense, where he was 27-of-39 passing with 487 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions.
The defensive Outstanding Player in Class 1A was Beau Fitte of South Plaquemines. A four-time all-state selection, Fitte was the District 9-1A Defensive Player of the Year and a four-time All-Metro selection for The Times-Picayune. The Louisiana Tech commit at linebacker missed four games this season due to injury but still averaged 8.8 tackles a game, recording 10 tackles for loss and eight sacks for the semifinalist Hurricanes.
State runner-up Ouachita Christian boasted the Class's best quarterback, Paul Michael Garner, who finished the season with 3,614 yards on 188-of-337 passes this season with 38 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Junior wide receiver and return specialist Mark Laird also made the team, joining Montgomery's Taylor Williams in the receiving corps, and Nick Bertrand of Basile is the top tight end. The all-state offensive line features seniors Devonte Limbrick (Oberlin), Gordy Bright (Country Day), Bradon Porche (Westminster), Ezekiel Alsander (Southern Lab) and Cailin Cola (West St. John).
On defense, the line is bolstered by Ronnie Feast (West St. John), Michael Ryder (Oberlin), Gerad Carlin (White Castle) and Nick Waguespack (Westminster Christian). Shawn Key of Ouachita Christian, Alondrea Young of Southern Lab, and Lloyd Grogan of Central Catholic join Fitte in backing the line.
In the secondary, Bradley Sylve of South Plaquemines, Christian Marcus of Cedar Creek, Chris Laborde of Westminster and Isaac O'Bear of state champion White Castle defend passes.
Westminster's Tim Redd was named the all-state placekicker, and Frederick Kruze of Delhi Charter is the top punter, while St. Mary's star athlete Derion Porchia is the best return specialist in 1A.
Dominique said he had so much faith in his team this season that he reserved hotel rooms in New Orleans in August, told students to cancel a field trip to Atlanta scheduled for the second weekend in December and even planned a parade in July, scheduling it for the day after the state championship.
He said his team's family-like togetherness - they participated in service projects, painted the locker rooms, had cookouts and went to church together - is what kept them together, and it's something he said was just as important in his own life.
"These guys had a vision, and they weren't going to let anything stop them from doing it," he said. "These kids are what made it happen. I was just the vessel that God used to orchestrate it.
"I left White Castle at 18 and said I'd never be back again, but now I'm loving it," he added. "I said at the pep rally that we were going to go out and win the state championship and show what 30 people can do when they stick together. But what about the 2,000-3,000 people in White Castle? We can stick together…and get all the resources to be a successful place."
Pos. Player School Ht. Wt. Cl. WR Mark Laird Ouachita Christian 6-2 178 Jr.
WR Taylor Williams Montgomery 5-10 175 Sr.
TE Nick Bertrand Basile 6-1 190 Sr.
OL Cailin Cola West St. John 6-2 300 Sr.
OL Gordy Bright Country Day 6-1 200 Sr.
OL Devonte Limbrick Oberlin 6-2 220 Sr.
OL Brandon Porche Westminster 6-2 285 Sr.
OL Ezekiel Alsander Southern Lab 6-7 303 Sr.
QB Paul Michael Garner Ouachita Christian 5-11 170 Sr.
RB Cedric Skinner Oberlin 5-11 195 Sr.
RB Tyre Bracken White Castle 5-9 180 Sr.
RB Riccie Gray Delhi Charter 6-0 215 Sr.
PK Tim Redd Westminster 6-0 175 Sr.
ATH Ronald Martin White Castle 6-2 185 Sr.
Pos. Player School Ht. Wt. Cl.
DL Ronnie Feist West St. John 6-1 220 Jr.
DL Michael Ryder Oberlin 6-0 175 Sr.
DL Gerad Carlin White Castle 6-1 270 Jr.
DL Nick Waguespack Westminster 5-10 180 Jr.
LB Beau Fitte South Plaquemines 6-1 210 Sr.
LB Shawn Key Ouachita Christian 5-9 175 Sr.
LB Alondrea Young Southern Lab 6-2 228 Sr.
LB Lloyd Grogan Central Catholic 6-1 210 Jr.
DB Bradley Sylve South Plaquemines 5-11 175 Sr.
DB Christian Marcus Cedar Creek 5-11 185 Sr.
DB Chris Laborde Westminster 6-1 180 Sr.
DB Issac O'Bear White Castle 6-0 165 Jr.
KR Derion Porchia St. Mary's 5-10 180 Jr.
P Frederick Kruez Delhi Charter 5-8 170 Jr. OUTSTANDING PLAYER OFFENSE: Cedric Skinner, Oberlin OUTSTANDING PLAYER DEFENSE: Beau Fitte, South Plaquemines COACH OF THE YEAR: Ferrante Dominique, White Castle
Honorable mention: Myles Lee, Ascension Episcopal; Tre'Von Vault, Block; Austin Ginn, Cedar Creek; Parker Hufft, Country Day; Jace Dore, Delcambre; Tyler Viator, Delcambre; Ossie Lavan, Elton; Jimmy Beck, Hamilton Christian; Cameron Myer, Hamilton Christian; Lamar Brown. Haynesville; DaKendrick Wilson, Logansport; Erving Craft, Oak Grove; Ronkeith Alfred, Oberlin; Braden Bristo, Ouachita Christian; Jacob Cannon, Ouachita Christian; Jon Michael Livingston, Ouachita; Zach Tarver, Ouachita Christian; Josh Wilkes, Ouachita Christian; Manuel Black, South Plaquemines; Nicholas Gibson, South Plaquemines; Cobey Jenkins, Southern, Lab; Michael Roach, Southern Lab; Adam Wimberley, St. Edmund; Wesley Boss, St. John-Plaquemine; Herman Fitch, St. John-Plaquemine; DaVante Williams, St. John-Plaquemine; Calvin Black. St. Martin's; Daniel Campbell, St. Martin's; Jarius Moll, West St. John; Darius Washington, West St. John; Chandler George. Westminster Christian; Johnathan Roberts, White Castle; Mark Allen, White Castle; Thomas Kemp, Westminster Christian; Lorne Barthelemy, South Plaquemines.