Jim Hightower still hasn’t lost his love for coaching high school football.
The 70-year-old began his head coach career in 1974 and in the four-plus decades since then has collected more than 400 victories, a pair of state championships and was inducted into Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in 2016.
Yet, despite those accomplishments and lengthy career, the longtime St. Thomas More head coach remains enthusiastic as ever about the start of another season.
“I enjoy the preparation, being enjoy around these guys and seeing the amount of effort that they put in for our team,” Hightower said. “To me that never gets old. Every new season is a new challenge.”
The challenge for the Cougars this season is simple.
STM must replace a senior class of 30 player who put together the best four-year stretch in program history. In the past four season, the Cougars played in three Division II state championship games, including winning it all in 2016, and made four straight semifinal appearances.
Even though STM returns only eight starters total (3 on offense, 5 on defense), Hightower likes what he has seen from his team this offseason and fall camp.
“I really liked the effort that these guys have given us,” Hightower said. “It started in late December. We then had a really productive summer and every day they have come to the practice field looking to get better.”
STM won’t have to concern itself with what to do at quarterback as the team returns all-state quarterback Caleb Holstein. The University of Harvard commit is coming off a season in which he threw for 3,854 yards and 47 touchdowns.
“He was so productive last year,” Hightower said. “You know you are going to get a good game at quarterback every game.”
Senior tight end Luke Howard has been diligently working with his close friend over the summer to become an even more reliable pass-catching target.
“Building the trust with him and go up and grab those 50-50 balls from him,” Howard said. “That is the biggest thing. If he has more trust me he is going throw me the ball more.”
STM may be breaking in several new starters on the offensive side of the ball but that is not the case on defense. The Cougars returns five starters and several other players with experience on defense including linebacker Bryce Bouillion, cornerback Dominic Zepherin, defensive lineman Cameron Cannon and cornerback Grant St. Cyr.
“We’ve got people at every level of the defensive side that has game experience so that will help us,” Hightower said. “Last year we started off with nearly zero starters on defense.”
“We have learned not to be content,” St. Cyr said. “Once you become content is when you start losing games.”
Not wanting to be content also applies to how Hightower puts together his non-district schedule. This season, STM will play Holy Cross, Barbe, Plaquemine, Neville and Catholic of Baton Rouge.
All STM games can be heard live on 103.7 The Game.
“I think you learn a lot about yourself when you play good people,” Hightower said. “They are going to expose your weaknesses and they are going to ask you to play your best to compete with them. I don’t know if I would like to schedule as difficult as we did this year but I think you respond to the challenge.”
STM is hoping that the daunting non-district slate of games will help prepare them to make another run at a state championship. Especially after falling just short last season when STM lost a shootout 55-46 to University High in the Division II title game.
“We witnessed that as a freshmen but we came up short as sophomore and juniors,” Howard said. “We want to experience winning a championship one more time.”
St. Thomas More Schedule
9-6 St. Thomas More at Holy Cross
9-13 Barbe at St. Thomas More
9-20 Plaquemine at St. Thomas More
9-27 Neville at St. Thomas More
10-04 Catholic-BR at St. Thomas More
10-11 St. Thomas More at Westgate
10-18 Teurlings Catholic at St. Thomas More
10-25 St. Thomas More at Northside
11-01 Carencro at St. Thomas More
11-08 N. Vermilion at St. Thomas More