The district number may be different, but the toughness and depth have not changed one bit.
After playing as 9-3A in 2010, the Tangipahoa-Livingston parishes contingent now becomes 8-3A, and all six teams in the district have a legitimate shot at making the playoffs.
Last season, five of the six - Amite, Independence, Loranger, Jewel Sumner and Bogalusa - made it to the postseason, with Albany having been left out by the slimmest of margins.
With most of the teams having experienced players coming back for 2011, no coach in the district is expecting a cake walk.
“It’s a pretty good district because everybody is young,” Independence coach Keith Carona said. “It will be a dogfight for the district title.”
The Tigers, who finished second last season to Amite, return seven starters on offense and nine on defense, leading Carona to believe he should have a better team this year.
“At the end of the (2010) season, we felt like we were a pretty good football team,” he said. “We feel like we gonna be better.”
On offense, Independence returns junior quarterback Oscar Briggs, who threw for 557 yards and seven touchdowns as well as rushing for 328 yards and six TDs in 2010.
“The role of the quarterback is to be the leader - whatever it has to be,” Carona said. “He did a good job last year as a sophomore and has showed a lot of improvement.”
The strong suit for the Tigers will be defense, with all but two starters returning.
Amite, last year’s 8-3A champion, returns seven players on each side of the ball, highlighted by the return of senior quarterback Reginald Porter, senior offensive tackle James Pea Milton and junior running back James Oden.
Milton and Oden were both named first-team all-district while Porter garnered second-team honors.
On defense, the Warriors are led by linebacker Juwaan Rogers. The 6-foot, 230-pound senior had 140 tackles, 15 sacks, one interception and seven fumble recoveries in 2010 and is a two-time all-state recipient as well as being named to the 2010 U.S. Air Force All-American second team.
Loranger finished 4-2 in district play last season, good for just third in the league. Coach Sam Messina is pleased with where his team is so far in preseason practice.
“It’s been pretty good,” he said. “We are pretty sharp on what we’ve done so far. Our skill positions are pretty deep.
“We need to develop depth on the lines. It’s just a matter of finding players to fill positions.”
Loranger’s strength on offense will be its running game, led by junior Jeryl Brazil, a 2010 honorable mention all-state player and an LSU commitment.
“Jeryl is good but we have a lot fo guys to complement him,” Messina said. “(Quarterback) B.J. Rainey made big strides last year and Jonathan King and Jake Ingraffia as wide receivers are very capable.”
Jewel Sumner finished fourth in the league last season and returns 13 of 22 starters. On offense, running back Marckus Brumfield and receiver Kyle Waller lead the way, having scored six and seven touchdowns, respectively, in 2010.
Sumner will have a new quarterback this season as Michael Spears takes over.
“This season will be a rebuilding year,” Sumner coach Zephaniah Powell said. “We lost 16 strong seniors and only have 10 seniors moving up.”
On defense, linebacker Tyler Trout has 175 tackles in two years and linebacker Walter Ricks had seven sacks in 2010.
Albany went 0-5 on district play last season, but was ranked 33rd in the Class 3A power rankings, with the top 32 making the postseason.
The 3A playoffs lost a team when Rayville was disqualified for using an ineligible player. However, the issue came up after the playoff bracket was announced and Albany was left on the outside looking in.
Hornets coach Brad Ficklin has put that disappointment behind him and is looking forward to 2011.
“This could be the most promising season since I’ve been here,” Ficklin said. “We’ve got a lot of pieces to the puzzle.”
The key for Ficklin is that no one will have to play both ways.
“We have 11 different starters on both sides of the ball, so that will help a lot,” he said.
Quarterback Louis Sansovich is back for the Hornets after throwing for more than 2,300 yards in 2010.
“He has really grown as a quarterback,” Ficklin said. “Last year, he knew plays but this year, he understands coverages.
“We are expecting big things from Louis.”
At running back, junior Tanner Wild takes over, and although he is only 5-9, his 220-pound frame should prove valuable for the Hornets.
“He moves well for his size,” Ficklin said. “He could be a 1,000-yard back.”
But, as with the other coaches in the district, Ficklin said the league title won’t be easy to come by.
“Our district had five of six teams in last year, so there are no cream puffs,” Ficklin said.