If there is anybody who knew James Waguespack, it was Allen Hymel.
“We grew up together. He was my neighbor when he was growing up. He’s six years younger than me. I’ve known him all my life,” said Hymel.
Hymel remembered his former neighbor, friend and colleague, who died Monday at the age of 76 after suffering a stroke at his home in Cecilia on Sunday.
Although only a few years older, Hymel was an assistant coach of the Wildcats when Waguespack was a player in the late 1950s. Both men played football at St. James before later going on to serve as an assistant and ultimately head coach of the Wildcats.
Hymel recalled the diminutive Waguespack as an outstanding multi-sport athlete.
“Jimmy used his speed to play football. He was a defensive back his first year and then ended up being a defensive back and a running back his second year,” Hymel said. “He still had that slight build, about 130 pounds, at that time.
“He was not only all-district and all-state, he was also on what they called at the time, the All-South team. He played basketball, baseball and ran track. He was real good in baseball and track. His worst sport was basketball.”
Waguespack helped lead the Wildcats to a state championship his senior season in 1959.
St. James defeated Oberlin 19-6 for the state title. Obrerlin was led by Hoyle Granger, who would go on to play at Texas A&M and became the all-time leading rusher in American Football League history.
While the Wildcats defeated Oberlin to capture the state title, Waguespack never stood taller than a week earlier when St. James faced Zachary in the semifinals.
St. James was clinging to a 7-6 lead late in the game and Zachary was driving for a potential game-winning score.
Waguespack, who played in the secondary on defense, was beat to the end zone by Zachary receiver James Pellegrin. The 5-foot-6 Waguespack jumped on the back of the 6-foot-6 Pellegrin.
Instead of a touchdown, the pass interference all only cost the Wildcats 15 yards. More importantly for St. James, the defense held, allowing SJH to win the game on its way to the school’s first-ever state title.
After his playing days were done, Waguespack quickly returned to St. James. He was an assistant under John Boughton when the Wildcats won the state title in 1966.
“When he started coaching, he was in charge of the defense and kept it and he won the state championship running a 50 defense and running the old offense that had been run in 1958 and 1959,” Hymel said. “It was the wing-T and he knew that by heart, also.
“After the game started to change, he got rid of the 50. They played Donaldsonville, he had told me, and got beat by 50-somewhat points and he scrapped his 50 and went to a four-man front. That’s what everybody really went to after that.”
That, Hymel said, demonstrated Waguespack’s adaptability as a coach.
When Waguespack was named the head coach at St. James, Hymel, who was at Edgard at the time, returned to his alma matter to now coach under his former pupil.
While Waguespack was adaptable in terms of x’s and o’s, technology, Hymel said, was another matter.
“At that time, computers were coming in and everybody was trying to put everything on computer. We tried to use it for an edge but Jimmy always went back to the old methods. If the computer said one thing, Jimmy did something else,” Hymel said.
Waguespack also was fond of appropriating plays from other teams that had proved successful against the Wildcats, according to Hymel.
“If somebody beat us at one point, Jimmy would pick it up and put it in our offense,” Hymel remembered. “If we stole it from Thibodaux, he called it ‘The Thibodaux Special.’ If we stole it from Ruston, he called ‘The Ruston Special’ or whatever it was like the ‘Hahnville Special.’
“If we got beat by something on Friday night and if we couldn’t stop it, we would put it in our offense.”
Waguespack, said Hymel, proved to be ahead of his time when it came to the passing game.
“Throwing the ball, it was always two tight ends, but that changed, also,” Hymel explained. “He started with one split end and then went to a slot.
“All the plays were simple. There was no crazy formations. He didn’t run a crazy numbering system. Every pass game we had was automatic. The minute he sent ‘check’ in the huddle; we knew it was a pass.”
“Coach Jimmy was offensive minded. He believed in throwing the ball. In those days, we threw it 60 percent of the time and ran it 40 percent of the time, which was a lot in those days,” said Keith Falgoust, the quarterback of Waguespack’s undefeated state championship team in 1979. “They didn’t have that many passing teams in those days.
“It was a pro-set offense. We ran a lot of slots. It wasn’t the wide-open offenses like you see today. It was a passing game that was very successful.”
Waguespack and his Wildcats were part of Louisiana high school football history when St. James won the state title in 1979.
The game against Wossman – the only time the Wildcats ever won a state title on their home field – marked the first time in Louisiana high school history that a championship game went to overtime. In past years, a game that ended in regulation – even with a state title on the line – was decided by the team with the most first downs in the game.
Luckily for the Wildcats, the new rule had just been implemented. Under the old rule, St. James would have lost because Wossman had more first downs.
Wossman won the toss and elected to take the ball first in overtime from the St. James 10-yard line. A bad snap on second down led to a loss, with an 11-yard pass from Wossman quarterback Ricky Foy Michael Grant down to the 4-yard line.
The St. James defense stopped Wossman on fourth down and turned the ball over to the Wildcats’ offense.
St. James running David Charles ran the ball down to the 1-yard line on first down. On second down, Charles, behind a block from center Harold Hymel, plunged into the end zone to give the Wildcats a 14-8 and the fourth state title in school history.
Waguespack later led Cecilia to unprecedented school success. He led Cecilia to the state championship game in 1992 and 1993 before capturing the state title in 1995. His 1995 team went undefeated, making Waguespack the only coach in state history to guide two unbeaten state champions.
Waguespack’s success, said those who knew him best, centered around team football.
“Everybody had a chance,” said Hymel. “He didn’t get rid of many people, maybe one or two troublemakers that couldn’t help us, but he always gave a kid a chance that he knew couldn’t play. He always kept them on the squad.”
“We had some stars on that (1979) team but he never pushed anyone individually. It was all about a team sport to him. That’s what he really believed in,” Falgoust said.