EDGARD, La. -- It's been an up-and-down fall for Edgard (La.) West St. John OLB Ronnie Feist.
Feist, No. 127 in the ESPNU 150 and the No. 9 OLB in the nation, was hoping for a monster season. But he suffered an early injury and had to deal with his father being hospitalized. While everyone is healthy now, it was a trying season.
"I would first like to thank God," said Feist, a longtime LSU commit. "God blessed me with athleticism and to be able to play at this high level. Second, I would like to thank Ronnie and Felicia, my parents, for helping me pursue my dreams. I would like to thank my teammates for always pushing me hard and all the coaches. Without these guys, I would be nothing. Lastly, I would like to thank all those that support our school and program."
West St. John has 206 students and a football program with 38 players. Edgard is a small, close-knit community. In fact, during the jersey presentation, 30 members of the Feist family were in attendance, as well as what seemed like most of Edgard.
"Yes, we are so proud of Ronnie," said Courtney Millet, school superintendent of St. John's Parish. "What people have to understand about Ronnie is that he's more than just an athlete. He's a student-athlete and that is so well-rounded. To have the opportunity to play in this game is a big deal to this community. This is a big thing."
Feist started the season as a spectator. He injured his back and missed four games.
"Ronnie is now fully recuperated from the back injury, and he has played really well for us," West St. John coach Robert Valdez said. "His knowledge of the game has really gotten better. He's at a point where he's like a coach on the field, and he helps his teammates understand and see what we are trying to do. Ronnie is bigger and has much more muscle mass to him. I have always said I would rather have him that have to block him."
While Ronnie Feist was out because of his back injury, his father, Ronnie Sr., was hospitalized for a month. It took awhile, but everyone is back and now Ronnie Sr. gets to see his son play not only in the state playoffs, but in this prestigious all-star game.
"It means a lot more after being hospitalized," Ronnie Sr. said. "I realize that things in life can change like that. We are so proud of him. He dreamed of playing in this game. He really did. What Ronnie wants, Ronnie really goes after. We look forward to watching the playoffs, seeing him in this game and moving forward as a Tiger."
While his father was in the hospital, Feist dealt with many things for the first time. Looking back, he realizes what a difficult time it was for him.
"It was so hard for me," Feist said. "First I had the injury and I couldn't practice or play. Me and my sister visited him every day. My mom stayed with him at the hospital. That was a hard time for me because I was alone a lot. My dad was sick. And I couldn't play football. Football is my outlet, and it wasn't there anymore. These experiences showed me a different scale of life."
Feist returned to the field at the same time his father left the hospital. In fact, in his first game back, Ronnie Sr. sat in the stands. Now more than ever, Feist appreciates what his parents have sacrificed for him.
"It meant so much to me to see my dad in the stands for my first game back," Feist said. "Now, before every game, I find them in the stands and everything I do I do for them."
Feist and his Rams teammates find themselves in the middle of a playoff run. They face St. John's on Friday in the second round of the playoffs. Feist also finds himself one step closer to another goal -- a state championship.
"That's it," Feist said. "I am getting back in good playing shape now and I am hungry for a championship. That's my goal, and I will not settle for anything less."
Feist, who carries a 3.6 grade point average and scored a 21 on the ACT, will graduate from West St. John's next month and enroll at LSU in January. Feist knows he made the right call in selecting Les Miles and the Tigers.
"LSU is having a phenomenal year," Feist said. "I knew I always wanted to go there but now I really know. I love their defense. I love their swagger. That defense plays so hard, and I can't wait to be a part of that."
For just about his entire career, Feist, the No. 3 prospect in Louisiana, has put his hand down in the dirt and excelled at defensive end. While the Rams entertained the idea of moving him to linebacker, he means too much to the defense right now playing end. His 13 sacks prove that.
"We looked at him at linebacker in May," Valdez said. "But then we decided we really needed to keep him at defensive end. He's just so strong there in our scheme and he's really an outside linebacker/rush end in our scheme. Ronnie has so much speed and athleticism."
Feist will make the move to linebacker when he moves to Baton Rouge for good. He's up for the challenge of what lies ahead on all football fronts and the challenges that come with being an incoming freshman.
"I think I will have a chance to play," Feist said. "They are so strong up front and in the secondary. I know I can help them out at linebacker. I will play hard and do everything coach [John] Chavis asks of me."
Feist will follow former West St. John standouts Tyson Jackson and Quinn Johnson to Baton Rouge. And for Valdez and his Rams program, he hopes there will be some who follow Feist at West St. John.
"This is Year 4 of my program here, and Ronnie Feist is my poster child," Valdez said. "It's amazing what he has accomplished, and playing in this [Under Armour] game, from such a small town and community, is just fantastic for our kids. It also shows that we have had and have some football players here, some real good football players."
Jamie Newberg has been covering recruiting both in the Southeast and nationally for 19 years. He can be reached at email@example.com.