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The Jennings Bulldogs weren’t exactly the talk of the SWLA high school football scene at the beginning of the 2017 season.
That changed as the season went on and the Bulldogs kept winning, posting a 10-2 regular season and reaching the state semi-finals, where they lost to West Feliciana.
While it was no doubt a disappointing end to the season, the bulldogs have a lot to be proud of, and a big part of their amazing season was their defense, which is why Jennings head coach Rusty Phelps nominated his defensive coordinator, Ronnie McZeal, for this year’s Charles Vicknair Assistant Coach of the Year Award — and why McZeal was honored with the award.
McZeal says he’s always loved and been connected to the sport of football, and after his playing days were over, coaching was an easy career decision.
“(Coaching) is the closest you can get to football without playing,” he says.
He began his coaching career in 2002 at West Orange in Texas, working under head coach Dan Hooks. He came back to Louisiana to serve as a running backs coach at Lake Arthur High School for one year, then ended up in Jennings, where he’s been since.
While he loves the ability to stay involved in the sport he loves, and the excitement of Friday night games, McZeal says the best part of coaching for him is seeing his players develop from young boys into men.
“I love being able to help young men mature and watch them grow emotionally and physically,” he says.
And that includes his two sons, both of whom he coaches; his eldest son recently played his senior season with the Bulldogs, and a younger son is a junior this year.
McZeal says he’s humbled and honored to receive this year’s award, and credits his success to Phelps and the entire Jennings coaching staff.
“Our entire staff works hard year in, year out to put the team in the best possible position,” he says.
The award is presented each year in honor of longtime SWLA coach Charles Vicknair. When Vicknair, who’d coached in some capacity at nearly every high school in SWLA during his long career, passed away in 2008, it was estimated that some 32 assistant coaches who’d worked under him had gone on to become head coaches.
Many of those coaches are considered some of the best in the history of the sport in SWLA. The list of coaches who won the American Press Head Coach of the Year Award after serving as an assistant coach under Vicknair reads like a who’s who list: Jimmy Shaver. Russ Sutherland. Mike Johns. Former MSU coach Matt Viator, who served as assistant coach under Vicknair at Sam Houston High School early in his career. And Westlake’s late head coach Max Caldarera, who served as assistant coach at Westlake for two years under Vicknair, taking over as head coach when Vicknair left for Barbe in 1978.
This year’s award is given in memory of former Welsh head coach Dutton Wall, who coached 438 games at five schools, began his career in 1962 at Ville Platte. His football teams posted a 274-160-2 record, captured 14 district championships and were state champion runners up three times. Wall was named the La. Sports Writers Assoc. 2A Coach of the Year three times, twice as head coach at Welsh. He won the Casey Kozminski Award from the LSWA in 1994. He was named the American Press SWLA Coach of the Year three times.
McZeal says it’s a particular honor for him to win the award that honors Wall.
“I was a player in Jennings when (Wall) was head coach in Welsh,” he says. “I learned a lot about the value of hard work from his example, and about the importance of preparation.”
2017 Vicknair Award Runners Up
Terrance Cahee, Washington-Marion High School
Jared Chapman, Barbe High School
Mike Abshire, Sam Houston High School
About The Vicknair Award
The Charles Vicknair Assistant Coach Award honors longtime SWLA coach Charles Vicknair. Often called a “coach’s coach,” Vicknair coached at six area high schools during his 30-year career. Known as much for teaching up-and-coming coaches as he was for heading up winning football teams, Vicknair helped some of the area’s winningest coaches get their start: Jimmy Shaver, Max Caldarera, Mike Johns, Russ Sutherland and Matt Viator are just some of the area’s noteworthy coaches that served as assistants under Vicknair early in their careers. So it’s only fitting that the award honoring the area’s best assistant coaches bears his name.
To commemorate the award, Josh Guillory, owner of Custom Iron by Josh in Westlake and a former player under Vicknair at Westlake, created the one-of-a-kind trophy. For more information, visit coachvicknair.com.