Updated: Jan 6
BLOW YER MIND....ALL THE TIME
by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
LONN: How's it geauxing Coach Valdez, thank you so much for the time!
COACH VALDEZ: It's going good!
LONN: First off, Saivion Jones...is he the most high profile talent to ever come out of St. James?
COACH VALDEZ: Well he's kinda up there, I mean we've had some guys, don't get me wrong, Corey Webster...
LONN: Oh yeah, he's a legend!
COACH VALDEZ:...yup and we had Rydell Melancon, he played LB at LSU in the 80s, then of course you have Corey Webster who came through in the late 90s, then you've got Lowell Narcisse, ya know a big big name, but for this year for us to have two guys, Saivion and Shazz Preston probably going be one of the top receivers in the country going into his senior year. So, Saivion Jones is a kid man, I'm so proud of him.
I remember seeing him going into the 8th grade and that sucker was skinny, he was...we thought he was probably going to have to be a taller receiver or something, but something miraculous happened....see, the thing about him is he's a sponge in the weight room. And so if you watch him, his technique and the way he lifts, he just started working, just started really putting the time in and just developed himself into the monster he is today.
LONN: Well he's an absolute wrecking machine, 29 TFL last year...13 sacks...I mean....I covered his 2020 numbers and there wasn't that big of a dip, Coach (both laugh).
COACH VALDEZ: (laughs) No! You compare him from 15 games in 2019 to 11 games this year and knowing that everyone has to block him in their game plan.... He was doing this against tight ends, full backs, double teams...most teams try to run away from him and do as much as they can to contain him. It was really impressive this year...because we tell the kids 'once you establish your identity, everyone's gonna bring their best', so we saw everyone play and work really hard to try and stop him this year.
LONN: Watching St. James this year, there were double or triple teams sometimes and he was still getting through, Coach. His tackles per game raised, his sacks per game only dropped by 0.3, this was with four less games, too....INCREDIBLE.
When did LSU first come on to the scene for Saivion?
COACH VALDEZ: He went to an LSU camp after his sophomore year, he was still developing and they didn't know if he was going to be an outside linebacker or defensive end. Then, he started getting some offers, started getting recruited by a lot of people. Then, at the beginning of his junior year, he started turning it on early. And so he was invited to "Boys From The Boot" Junior Day and LSU offered him going into his senior year. But, they'd been on the recruiting trail with him...before his junior season, we just said 'Oh my god, we have someone special' because he was just tearing it up.
LONN: Absolutely, and this goes beyond the sacks & tackles for loss and all the usual things we usually look at, but how many interceptions he forced with his pressures....you guys had 26 interceptions last year!!! I mean you guys were outrageous, Coach!
COACH VALDEZ: It was like 'if you were going to beat us, do not throw the football.' We were probably going to come down with it. Our corner Joel Cooper I think had close to 10 interceptions last year (Cooper had 6 in 2019, 8 in 2020 too, returning 3 for TDs), and I think J'kory Ester finished the season with 6 so that's 12 INTs between them...and they were Johnny on the spot.
It's no secret, we tell them a "good defensive back's best friend is a dominant defensive end that provides pressure".
His numbers may have dropped in sacks, but the pressures he put on quarterbacks made them get rid of the ball very quick.... quicker than they wanted to. That was a great stat-line for us, just getting the penetration because....here's the funny thing about it, we're not a penetration type team. We're more of a "read and react" team, so he's doing this while he's reading and reacting.
Some teams are upfield and like to penetrate and create immediate pressure, but we're a read and react, straddle the line type of defense. Then, once we identify, then go! I mean LSU will probably put him at weak side DE and just tell him "look, we're gonna let this middle linebacker protect you in behind and just go!" I mean, I think the sky's the limit.
LONN: I absolutely agree with you, watching your defense it's very read and react, but you also set up Saivion with a multitude of responsibilities on every play, yet still you guys let him be him. You guys set him up to succeed, Coach, I just want you to know you did right by Saivion Jones and every kid on your team....
COACH VALDEZ: Thank you!
LONN: No thank you, Coach!
You're helping kids succeed and that's a beautiful thing. When you first met and watched Saivion in the 8th grade, what were your first thoughts watching him?
COACH VALDEZ: It's funny, because when you really get to know him, Saivion was a big goofy kid, he's a kid, man! He doesn't say much, he has a little slight humor, but you have to get really close to him to get to that. But when he started coming around, Saivion was watching the older guys and he'd go into the weight room with a "small fish in a big pond" type of syndrome and he got baptized way early going into his freshman year. We just started seeing him grow, putting on some weight, we were like 'man this kid's growing', he was getting taller too, ya know, his mother was a basketball player for St. James High School, and she has great height.
But then, Coach Taylor (Burnell Taylor) our defensive line coach, does such a great job the way he's teaching D-Line, with hand placement and all those things. So, going into his freshman year, we said 'let's move him to defensive end cause he's probably gonna grow more' and he did, he started growing.
And as a sophomore, you know he just started taking over. We're like okay, wow this kid is going to be very good for us.
We lost to North Webster (second round of the 2018/19 playoffs) and then he really turned it on, got into the weight room, started to really really....we had a great 2019 off-season and I mean the kids all bought in. He got bigger, he got stronger and maaaan...his junior year...like I said...but the thing a lot of people don't know about him, he's a sponge...he's just going to go to practice and whatever you teach, whatever you instill in him is what you're going to get on gameday. That's what's most rewarding...when you see a guy with that much talent and he's going to do whatever it takes for the team.
Because, he knew that if I needed an extra reserve offensive linemen, we had an extra pair of shoulder pads with #76 on it ready for him to put on in case we had to use him.
He played tight end for us...last year, we threw him a pass on a 2 point conversion and I've never seen him that excited. Those guys make it easy...because you already know what he brings to the table athletically, but the intangibles....the paying attention, the quiet.... the not being a distraction, he's not one of those guys that's going to give you a "win one for the Gipper Speech", he's just going to do what he's going to do, and he's going to be there every game and he's going to lay it on the line for you.
LONN: Wow...my next question was going to be 'what's his biggest strengths?' but I think you just outlined every single one of them right there (Coach Valdez chuckles), so what's the parts of his game he must improve on, Coach?
COACH VALDEZ: I think that with him....it's difficult to say this cause this kid has done so much...I just think he needs to learn how to be quicker, because the game is going to speed up for him at the next level.
Offensive linemen are going to be more athletic, I'd say just be quicker off disengaging and to be able to just track and make plays because he did that for us great. So, knowing I'm an offensive line guy, he's going to get chipped in college, the running backs are going to chip him, the tackles are going to jump-set him, and so he needs to identify all of those different things and realize this game is going to get faster.
But I think you're still going to see something special, I really believe this kid can put on 20-30 lbs and not miss a step...not miss a beat, you know this is a guy who can run a 4.5 at 260, 270....
LONN: Is he an NFL talent, Coach?
COACH VALDEZ: I think so, I think because the way the game is transcending.... a couple years ago, we thought he was an outside linebacker, now, when he gets to LSU with a more disciplined and savvy conditioning staff with the meal plans, I just think the sky's the limit for this guy. He has the....a lot of kids don't understand how important their talent can be towards their future...he understands that, he knows what it is that he has....he has so much of it and we're seeing it...it's going to be very fun to watch.
LONN: What was your favorite play of 2019's perfect undefeated championship year with Saivion?
COACH VALDEZ: The blocked punt against Destrehan, when you gotta guy like that...Tyler Steib blocked the punt and Saivion was Johnny On The Spot and he went and got it and ran it in. And it's funny to me, because that's when you see all the goofiness come out, although he doesn't know how to celebrate yet (both laugh) he was a little goofy with it, but there was a lot...we are a team built for speed at St. James, we've got tall rangy guys, for some reason we don't get the big, burly guys...and so in 2019 and this year, just to see how he handled different offenses that we played....you know, we see spread teams, but we're mostly seeing heavy running, power-running teams...for him to understand that he's not going to really get the stats, he's not going to make all the plays, but he's going to grind and squeeze the offensive linemen, spill and do all those other things, and that's what was most impressive with me. I told him one time, 'there's a lot of guys who cannot wait to put the highlights on Twitter', but Saivion doesn't care about that half the time, he just likes to play.
LONN: Wow...as if I wasn't excited already for Saivion, Coach you're boosting that by 100%....
I just have one more question and then we'll let you go, Coach, thank you so much for the time, sir:
There won't be any shenanigans on signing day, right? He's LSU through and through like we hear??
COACH VALDEZ: I believe so. He's solid and firm on his commitment. See, the thing that's most interesting about Saivion Jones: he's a different kind of kid.
He wanted to sign with his teammates. And, you know, we talk a lot about pride and brotherhood and all that, his cousin Jaquan Jones is coming from Southern University to be there...if you get a Jones to come to St. James, you got a football player (laughs)....we only have 12 seniors in this class, it's not a big senior class, but we're losing 12 really good guys. So, Saivion kind of just wanted to spread the wealth, he never really wanted some big old press release with hats on the table, he's a football player, man.
He's not big into the fanfare and all of that, he's solid with LSU, he just wanted to sign in February with his teammates. I do not anticipate any change of mind, he's 100% firm on his commitment and it's going to be fun to watch him in Tigers Stadium.
LONN: He's such a selfless kid, I just wanna thank you for how you've developed him over the last few years sir, you've done an incredible job with your program.
COACH VALDEZ: I appreciate that, man, it's....basically what we do, I guess. I've got great coaches around me, like I said his defensive line coach (Burnell Taylor) is now my defensive coordinator and he's done a tremendous job. Defensively, I don't micro-manage at all, my offensive coaches probably think I'm crazy (laughs), but defensively I've got great coaches around me and Saivion has embodied a lot of the things that those people taught him: "team first"... "earn everything that you get".... During Covid (the pandemic cancelling team activities), the linemen ran across from Saivion's house every day. Little things like that is just the funny thing about it...he's not going to give you too many great soundbites, but man he's a hell of a football player.
BLACK LIVES MATTER
by LONN PHILLIPS SULLIVAN
Copyright 2021 Uninterrupted Writings Inc LLC
SHOUTOUTS: Thank you Coach Robert Valdez for your time! What an amazing man and I would consider it an honor if a future child of mine were to play for you, sir.
Also, thank you to Saivion Jones for being Saivion. Cannot wait to see him in purple & gold.