The key to the title chase in District 7-1A could well be the performance of three of the district’s returning marquee players.

Nearly all the six teams in the district have a solid nucleus of returning veterans, so the race could boil down to how well the top-quality players do in the clutch.

Quarterbacks Laterrius Crumedy of Varnado and Harlan Miller of defending champion Kentwood, along with running back Marcus Aucoin of Southern Lab, will be in the spotlight as their teams compete for the district crown and a return to the playoffs.

Crumedy, at 5-foot-7 and 165 pounds, was district offensive MVP as a sophomore in 2009 and plays quarterback and linebacker for the Wildcats, as well as handling punting, kickoff and return duties.

Miller (5-11, 150) was all-district in 2010.

Aucoin (5-7, 170) was a first-team all-district cornerback and second-team running back last season.

All three teams were playoff teams in 2010, with the Kittens advancing to the quarterfinals where they lost to South Plaquemines.

The district covers a wide geographic area from Covington (Archbishop Hannan) to Baton Rouge (Christian Life and Southern Lab) and into Washington Parish (Mount Hermon and Varnado) and Tangipahoa Parish (Kentwood).

Coach David Currier, going into his 24th year at Kentwood and seeking his 24th trip to the playoffs, will be counting on Miller to lead the Kangaroos into the season. Miller tallied just under 1,000 yards in total offense and accounted for four touchdowns rushing and 11 more passing last season.

Junior all-district offensive tackle Jay Nichols (6-2, 275) will anchor an offensive line that returns six of seven starters from last year.

The ‘Roos finished strong in 2010, winning five of their final six games before dropping a first-round playoff game to Southern Lab.

“Hopes are high in Kentwood this year,” Currier said. “With the loss of only three seniors, we’ll have nine starters back on offense and defense, and we also have our quarterback back plus all our specialty people except our punter.

“If things do not change and we stay healthy, we will contend for district and make a run in the playoffs,” he said.

Currier noted that Kentwood played last season with 30 players but finished spring drills with 45, so he expects to have more depth.

Crumedy also will be at the helm of an experienced offensive unit at Varnado. Sophomore Markus Mark at running back will be the only newcomer in the Wildcats’ first-unit offense. Three top receivers, Jeremy Wolfe, Brian Miller and Reggie Green will be available for Crumedy, who passed for 1,836 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2010 to go with 1,562 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground.

“We have a lot of returning starters on both offense and defense,” coach Paul Meyerchick said, “but key roles need to be filled, especially on the defensive side. Our defense needs to step up this year.

“A tough pre-district schedule should get us ready to play in one of the tougher 1A districts in the state, and if (Laterrius Crumedy) stays healthy, we should be all right.”

Last year’s leading tackler, Denzel Harry, will lead the Wildcats defense, which returns nine starters.

New coaches will be on board for the two Baton Rouge schools in the district. Keith Dooley returns to CLA from Alabama to become the Crusaders’ third head coach in three years. Nick Mitchell moves from the coaching staff at East Ascension to replace Michael Roach at Southern Lab.

Mitchell, who played baseball at Southern for coach Roger Cador, expressed his excitement upon returning to The Bluff.

“There are only a couple of programs around that have a football tradition and an excellent background in academics. Southern Lab is one of them. I look forward to working with the staff, parents, student-athletes, and alumni to continue the traditions and move this great institution into a bright and promising future,” Mitchell said.

Although the Kittens return eight starters on both offense and defense, Mitchell describes his first team at Lab as “young and hungry, with great senior leadership.

“The defense will be counted on to anchor and lead the team while the offense looks to put the ball in the hands of their playmakers,” he said.

Aucoin will move in to fill the lead running back slot vacated by all-stater Alondrea Young, who signed to play with Alcorn State. As a cornerback in 2010, Aucoin led the team with five interceptions.

Southern Lab will have good size on the offensive line, led by center Tre’Vonce Thomas (6-2, 275), guard Chris Bowman (6-2, 300) and tackle Ray White (6-5, 230).

Two-way starters Braxton Morgan (6-1, 287) and Jerrell Richardson (5-8, 160), along with kicker Dameion Lee, head the list of 14 returning starters for Christian Life. Morgan, last year’s leading tackler, starts at both offensive and defensive tackle. Fellow senior Richardson starts at running back on offense and defensive back on defense. Lee will handle kicking and punting duties.

Junior Caleb Dominge will is slated to start at quarterback for the Crusaders.

Hannan coach Pat Lambert hopes to see his team better last year’s 1-8 mark.

A key to the Hawks’ success will be the leadership and performance of sophomore Korey Zeigler, who accounted for more than 1,100 total yards and 11 touchdowns as a freshman in 2010.

The youth movement continues for Hannan as 11 freshmen or sophomores will man starting positions.

Mount Hermon rounds out the district. Leading rusher Joe Walls (706 yards) and leading receiver Shane Jarrell (29/370 yards) are offensive leaders for the Yellow Jackets, who were 2-6 overall last season but did not compete for the district title.

As one of the smallest Class 1A schools in the state, Mount Hermon will be playing a full varsity schedule for the first time since instituting football five years ago.