Ascension Parish’s three 5A teams are preparing for another season of competitive action.

The Dutchtown Griffins (5-7, 2-3) hope to be a little more competitive than last season’s efforts.

“We had some players that sort of took some things for granted that caused us to underachieve,” head coach Benny Saia said. “We were supposed to be pretty good so the way things turned out was a disappointment.”

Last season, turnovers were a problem.

“If we can play good football and keep the turnovers down, we have the nucleus to have a good team this season,” he said.

Holding on to the football will be a key area to work on for the Griffins this year.

Another concern for Saia is on special teams.

“We lost Justin Reed, our outstanding kicker, with no replacement nailed down as of yet,” he said. “We lost all our returners, and our punter is back, but he finished the year in a slump, and we have to get his confidence level back up.”

There are four senior starters returning to help bolster the offense. Wide receiver Cornelius Washington, Fitell Bolding at running back, tackle Lloyd Cushenberry and guard Mylik McWilliams will be the experienced players to build on.

Quarterback Jared Sparks is set to lead the offense for the Griffins. Junior Cullen Gordon will start for the first time at center.

The defense was the bright spot on last year’s team. Players to watch on defense are Coney Durr and Ricky Thomas at cornerback, along with linebackers Sean Pruett and Terrance Lymon.

As for the important games this season, Saia was quick to point to a tough schedule.

“They’re all important as our schedule is tough, so if we don’t take them one game at a time, we’re going to be in a bad spot. We start with Denham Springs and end with St. Amant and no breaks in between.”

The East Ascension Spartans finished last season at 6-6, which included a 2-3 district finish that might not seem that impressive.

Coach Paul Bourgeois was very pleased.

“A 6-6 record might not look good on paper, but we didn’t expect the offensive line to be as good as they were,” he said.

Three starters return on the offensive side of the ball. Senior quarterback Kyran Irvin will direct the offense, along with senior Joshua Bates. The offensive line will be anchored by senior Gus Gutierrez.

Irvin will not be a secret this year as he’s being highly recruited by lots of 1A and 2A college teams.

On the defensive side, there will be six returning starters. Senior Johnny Baker at safety, along with cornerback Cameron Simon, will anchor the secondary. Josh Dennis leads the defensive front, and linebacker Jamien Samson will make the play calls.

East Ascension will have a full plate. It starts on week 1 with a trip to Denham Springs.

“This will be a good test for us right out the gate as they are always solid. In the last game before district play, EA will host St. Charles,” Bourgeois said. “This game is set to be a good match-up vs. coach Monica, who always has his team ready for battle.

“Then right in the middle of things in week seven, we mix it up by hosting St. Amant, our biggest rivalry game. That will be new for us, not wrapping up regular season with the Gators but still having big games with Dutchtown, McKinley then Broadmoor, who is new to our district.”

The St. Amant Gators are hoping to turn things around this year when it comes to playoff time.

“This may come as a surprise to some folks, but St. Amant has never won a playoff game away from the Pit,” coach David Oliver said. “But we want to end that this football season.”

The Gators finished second (6-4, 3-2) in District 5-5A competition last season. The Gators’ goal is to make the playoffs again this year.

“That’s a pretty respectable goal to achieve as we have a somewhat young team, this year. We usually have 36 or so seniors on the team but we’ll only have 19 this year,” Oliver said.

The team will have to rely on lots of junior leadership as the roster will have 55 in the junior class, and some of them will have to step up quickly.

Briggs Bourgeois is a returning kicker who hit 33 out of 33 extra points and 4 of 5 field goals. Bourgeois also caught six touchdown passes as a sophomore. The starting quarterback will be another junior, Hayden Mallory.

Senior running back Nathan Taylor will anchor the ground attack. On the defensive side of the ball, returning starters at the defensive ends are senior Elliot Turner and junior Garett Stephens, who will step up to lead the 3-4 defense.

The special teams is pretty solid as snapper Landon Boudreaux returns after gaining valuable experience last season. Bourgeois will handle kicking duties as he was perfect on PATs and achieved a touchback on 96 percent of his kickoffs.

Key games to watch for this season are Lutcher, East Ascension, Catholic and Dutchtown as they are great competitions and rivalry games as well as some of the best teams the Gators will face this year.