The year was 2006. It was the last time Ascension Parish’s three Class 5A high schools played in a Baton Rouge-based football district.
Fast-forward to 2011. After four years in a River Parishes-based league, Dutchtown, East Ascension and St. Amant are back. Prep football purists contend that with the new District 5-5A, Class 5A football in metro Baton Rouge is whole again.
The coaches put a different spin on it, saying they’re prepared to have a whole lot of fun.
“It is a homecoming of sorts for us,” Dutchtown High coach Benny Saia said. “I expect it to be real competitive.
“There are also some real unknowns for us, too. You know what expect from Catholic High with their tradition. And of course, we know EA and St. Amant. We don’t know McKinley and Woodlawn, so there’s a learning curve.”
League coaches expect Saia’s Griffins, who finished 12-1 a year ago, advancing to the 5A quarterfinals, to stay way ahead of the curve.
Dutchtown is the preseason favorite in 5-5A, followed by Catholic High and Woodlawn. Former Sulphur High coach Paul Bourgeois, who takes over at East Ascension, is the league’s only first-year coach.
The selection of Dutchtown as the favorite does give 5-5A its own “back-to-the-future” scenario with a twist. The Griffins were an emerging power back in 2006, looking to challenge Catholic and frontrunners.
Now the Bears, who finished 6-5 a year ago, are among the top challengers, along with a Woodlawn team that won two straight District 7-4A titles before moving back up to 5A. The Panthers were 9-3 a year ago.
“We enjoyed our time in 4A, without a doubt,” Woodlawn coach Don Jones said. “That time was good for us. Our numbers are back up and we have some confidence along with a lot of guys returning.
“But what a district. Dutchtown has a lot of talent and one of the best, if not the best player, in the state. Catholic is always going to be solid. I expect the other three teams, St. Amant, East Ascension and McKinley, to do good things.”
Though Jones’ Woodlawn team returns its entire offensive backfield, there is no debate about who the top player in 5-5A is expected to be.
Dutchtown safety Landon Collins (6-0, 210) was The Advocate’s All-Metro MVP on defense as a junior and is considered to be one of Louisiana’s top players. Collins is also garnering lots of national attention.
Collins leads a defense that will need to display its leadership early while the Griffins look to re-tool an offense which graduated quarterback Leon Blouin (Tulane) and running back Effrem Reed (University of Louisiana at Lafayette).
“We’re definitely going to look to have the defense carry us until those guys on offense to get experience,” Saia said.
Defensive end Darrien Batiste, a University of Louisiana at Lafayette commitment, is another player to watch on the Griffins’ defense that includes a key linebacker in Lucas Shipman and end David Elias.
Ultimately, all eyes will turn to offense. Dutchtown has had its share of running backs with the likes of Reed, Alabama player Eddie Lacy and Southern Cal commitment Kelvin York.
This Dutchtown squad will have a its best receiver corps ever, led by receivers Shelby Christy and Corey McBride, along with tight end Alec Osbourne. Mason Nickens is the new quarterback.
Woodlawn is the team with the most returnees, led by quarterback Kendall Barnes, a third-year starter who passed for 1,848 yards and 22 touchdowns last fall.
The Panthers return running backs K.C. Collins and Emmanuel Stewart and also picked up transfer Brent Terrance for Capitol. Jamaal Lofton is the top returning receiver. Collins ran for 1,192 yards and 18 TDs, while Lofton had 53 catches for 820 yards and 10 TDs.
Defensive back Devante Davis helps lead the WHS defense that figures to also get a boost from Catholic transfer Ryan Briggs, a defensive end.
Woodlawn also figures to have the top kicker in junior Jonathan Barnes, who booted a 56-yarder during LSU’s summer camp.
Catholic will have a mix of experience and inexperience. The big change will be junior Ben Braymer stepping in to replace Zack Oliver, a three-year starter at quarterback and a Northwestern University signee.
“We’ll have all new faces in the backfield and at wide receiver, which isn’t that different than last year,” Catholic coach Dale Weiner said. “The only difference this year is we’ll have a new quarterback, too. Braymer has done a good job stepping into that role.
“The key for us is to adapt what we do to this group. This is their turn ? their opportunity.”
Offensive linemen Thomas Tomeny and Blake Mann return on offense for the Bears. Defensive end William Gauthier and safety Chris Morgan are expected to have leadership roles on defense.
The other Ascension teams, EAHS and St. Amant, took their lumps the last four years with garnering a playoff berth.
Dutchtown’s Saia believes both the Spartans and Gators will be improved. Meanwhile, McKinley, a 4A playoff team at 7-4 last year, hopes to carry some momentum in its jump back up to 5A.
East Ascension returns its top rusher, Jamarcus Jarvis, to a new spread option attack. Tackle Jon Karrer helps anchor the line. Adam Miller and Deandrus Ennis are scheduled to split time at quarterback.
End Dex Templet, defensive back Darren Sharper and linebacker Brelan Aikens are other players to note for the Spartans.
St. Amant’s David Oliver enters his fourth year with 10 starters back on offense and eight returning on defense. Linebackers Brandon Brown and Brandon Rogers help lead the way defensively.
Tyler Guillory, who started at quarterback in 2009, returns to football and will call the signals for the SAHS offense that also welcomes back running backs Cameron Morris and Jamal Vaughn. Guards John Sheese and Kendell Williams were all-district performers on offense a year ago.
McKinley coach Robert Signater welcomes back 17 returning starters. All-Metro selection Brenden Willis, a linebacker, is one of nine retunees on defense. End Jesse Signater and defensive back Brandon Surtain are others to watch on defense.
Running back Lenard Tillery (800 yards total offense) and receiver Cody Swain (700 receiving yards) are key performers returning for the Panthers on offense.
“We’re looking to build on last year’s success and are looking forward to moving up in classification to see how the program measures up with the 5A schools,” Signater said.