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BRAD ROBICHAUX — Thomas Jefferson 8th grade football players enjoying success

Members of the Thomas Jefferson Middle School eighth grade football team are about to become outright champs, depending on the results of one more game to be played today by another undefeated team in their district. Even if the team remains undefeated, TJ’s team will also remain a co-champ.

That achievement comes after a winning season under coach DeVante Conner, who coached his first eighth grade season when Memorial varsity head coach Brian Morgan asked Conner to take over the middle school program. Conner and his team went 5-0-1 this year, even after two of their games were cancelled due to weather. That didn’t dampen the spirit at TJ, though.

“Honestly I can say about my eighth grade team: Even though through all adversity, they pulled through and had a good winning season,” Conner said. “We averaged almost 35 points a game, and on a defensive standpoint the most we ever gave up was probably 12.

“I’d like to also thank my coaching staff for their support, and the TJ faculty and staff, the administration team, and the community in general for their support this year, because without them we wouldn’t have a football season.”

Conner recognizes the incredible skill found in his players. In particular, his team was able execute passing plays much more regularly than is common in middle school football, thanks to the resilience of his offensive line.

“My most important key group is the one that always starts up front, the O line and D line,” he said. “Without my O line, my quarterback wouldn’t have time to throw the ball.”

Middle school football programs are often a learning experience for the players as they get familiar with the game in preparation for the big field in high school. Morgan’s philosophy is that middle school is a time to prepare for varsity. Conner brought that philosophy with him when he became coach. Morgan gave Conner a certain number of plays he wanted the eighth grade team to learn to smooth the transition between middle school and high school, and so that varsity and the eighth graders will know how to execute the same plays, regardless of who’s coaching them.

Conner, though, doesn’t let a learning experience come between him and his team doing their very best. It also doesn’t get in the way of school itself.

“That’s another thing I was very pleased with this year. Out of the 40 kids on the team, I kept about 36 of them because of their report cards. I’m big on academics,” Conner said.

“I’m very proud of my team, myself and how we were able to keep that winning tradition. As I tell everybody: Anything I try as a coach I give my all and I leave nothing left but a championship.”

We’re proud of you and your team too, coach.

Brad Robichaux is a reporter for The Port Arthur News. He can be reached at brad.robichaux@panews.com