As in recent years, the lay of the land in District 9-1A is expected to prominently feature a trio of tradition-rich schools.

West St. John, White Castle and St. John have become accustomed to battling for district and state honors, with each school having played for the state title in the last four years.

White Castle was the latest to achieve the feat and comes into the 2011 season as the defending state champion. Four returning all-state performers give the Bulldogs of coach Ferrante Dominique plenty of reason to be excited again.

“We’ll approach this season just like everyone else. You play to be state champion,” said Dominique, whose team capped a 12-3 season with a 32-20 win over Ouachita Christian in the state title game.

“In our case, we were the state champions last year, but there are 60-odd teams that will battle for it again. We’re 0-0, and last year is over with.”

All-state running back Tyre Bracken ran for 235 yards and two scores in the title game win and is the top offensive returnee for White Castle. He finished last season with more than 3,200 yards rushing and 40 touchdowns.

Three two-way players were recognized with all-state defensive honors. Defensive backs Isaac O’Bear and Terrance Taylor intercepted 11 and nine passes, respectively, last season. Tackle Gerad Carlin anchored the line with 11-1/2 sacks.

“We realize there are several phases to life, and once one phase is over, you move on to the next,” said Dominique.

St. John, which last reached the state title game in 2006, battled injuries last season but still reached the playoffs. The Eagles finished 5-5 after a first-round loss to Country Day.

“We’ve got a lot of experience back,” St. John coach Tut Musemeche said. “With the injuries we had last year, we were playing a lot of young kids ahead of time. We’ve got a few of the injured guys back plus some of the others that got reps.”

All-district senior running back Davante Williams ran for 21 touchdowns and more than 1,600 yards last season. Guard Wesley Boss and center Chris Bordelon return to anchor the line.

The Eagles get a boost on defense with the return of end Nathan Voisin, who was injured last year. Other top returnees include tackle Curtis Jones and linebacker Quinton Alexander.

“We’ve got the defending state champion, West St. John is strong, we’re going to be in the mix and I think a couple of others are going to be playoff teams, also,” Musemeche said. “Top to bottom, (the district) is pretty proud of the competition we play.”

West St. John, which won a 2A title in 2004, has been to the playoffs more than 20 times and reached the 1A final in 2007. The Rams went 5-6 last season, a ledger that included two losses to White Castle, the second a 12-0 first-round playoff defeat.

A pair of all-district performers will help the offense adjust to new starting quarterback Austin Howard. Wide receiver Jairus Moll returns along with running back Jeremy Jackson, who ran for 870 yards and six touchdowns a year ago.

LSU commitment Ronnie Feist recorded 85 tackles and 22 sacks last year and returns to anchor a defense that returns six starters. The defense could get tested early while Howard and a young offensive line try to come together.

Ascension Catholic will field an experienced team with a longer bench than coach Rick Bolotte is used to seeing - but he’s not complaining.

“This year, we’ve got 12 seniors, and we’ll have a little more depth,” said Bolotte, who mentioned team speed as a concern. “We’ve got 36 players, the most I’ve ever had, and we feel like we can run the ball a little bit. If we can throw the ball a little better, then we’ll compete with a lot of teams.”

Players to watch for the Bulldogs include quarterbacks Collin Rowland and D.J. Latino, and linemen Ryan Rodrigue and Blane Falsetta.

East Iberville, which was winless in coach Kelcy Dotson’s second season a year ago, and Ascension Christian, playing its first season in 9-1A, round out the league.

Ascension Christian and second-year coach Brian Kinchen will look for leadership from two-way players Aaron Lanclos, Jacob Puryear and Josh Nelson.

Dotson looks for the Tigers to establish a rushing attack behind senior running backs Nicholas Brooks and Lennet Little. On defense, Adrian Cummings, Joseph Patrick and Brooks are standouts.

“I’m hoping we can be a .500 team this year,” Dotson said. “I think we have a chance to sneak up on some people because we didn’t win last year. I think we might take some people by surprise. We’ll see how it goes.”