Five years ago, a rag-tag bunch of ninth- and 10th-graders went out for the first Ascension Christian Lions football team. They weren’t sure if they’d even have enough players to put a team on the field. As a matter of fact, the first two years the team competed in a freshman schedule only because of a lack of numbers.

Fast-forward to the 2014 season, and second-year coach Josh Puryear is getting his team ready to build on last year’s accomplishments. The Lions competed hard, marching to a two-win season and clenched their first district victory in the young history of the team.

The steamy temperatures along with the high humidity that’s sort of the norm here in south Louisiana in the summer didn’t seem to damper the chatter and fun in the weight room last week. Good-hearted ribbing and laughter filled the air as the drills began.

“This team is going to work hard, play hard and have a lot of fun,” Puryear said as he and strength coach Kent Schexnayder put this young team through a weight workout. “We’re up to 28 players on the team at this time, so there still remain some challenges with depth issues, but this team will compete.”

There will be six returning seniors along with four other starters on the squad in 2014. The loss of Caleb Bledsoe, 2013’s team leader as quarterback, running back and defensive back brings an extra set of challenges.

“Kagan Carter is filling those leadership shoes pretty good,” Puryear said. Carter, a three-year starter, is a senior playing defensive back who possesses great speed and a knack for tackling. “Kagan has improved every year so it’s a good thing for us that he is peaking in his senior year.”

The only four-year senior returning to the squad is lineman Thomas Gamble. Big responsibilities lie on the shoulders of this young man, as he’s the leader in the trenches on both sides of the ball.

“Thomas is the man we’re counting on to gel our offensive and defensive lines to cohesive units,” the head coach said. “He’s got a big job this year.”

Junior Seth Mangrum is one of the returning players that will contribute as a running back. His experience should afford him lots of touches on the ground as well as pass routes out of the backfield. Another returning player that will see time as quarterback and get some touches as wide receiver is Payton Bahlinger. He’ll be joined in the receiving corps by another wide out, Paxton Page.

One of the new players Puryear has great expectations for is a first-time player and a senior.

“This year is David Smith’s first time to play for us as a senior, but he has natural talent that gives the ability to be a factor from the start. His ability to play on offense as a wide receiver on one side of the ball, and then play defensive back on the other side will be a big help.”

On the defensive side of the ball, Puryear expects improvement. “We have a year in the books for our 4-2-5 package, so that should equate to us being better on defense in 2014.

“I admit we have a big challenge because we compete in a very tough district, but these guys have lots of heart,” Puryear said with a big smile on his face.

Will that translate into a better season this year? Only time will tell. But what I witnessed in that weight room gives me reason to believe these Lions will roar in 2014.

Lyle Johnson covers sports for The Ascension Advocate. Email Johnson at reelman@eatel.net or ascension@theadvocate.com.