Sports Roundup for May 26, 2016 _lowres

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK -- Headshot of new columnist Scott Hotard.

The change to cooler weather brings with it the start of district play for many high schools throughout Louisiana.

In Livingston Parish, the District 4-5A trio of Denham Springs, Live Oak and Walker head into league action this week knowing their toughest games of the season are surely still ahead.

Denham Springs and Live Oak meet Thursday night at Yellow Jacket Stadium to kick off the 4-5A schedule, while Walker will play its sixth straight home game Friday when the Wildcats welcome Central in their district opener.

“You know you’re going to see quality football, and every week it’s going to go right down to the wire,” Walker coach Brandon Lawley said.

That’s not just coach-speak, mind you.

District 5-5A has long been considered the stronger of the Baton Rouge-area’s two 5A leagues with teams like Catholic High and Dutchtown often making a home near the top of the state rankings and fielding big-name college recruits bound for major Division I programs.

But this year, it would be hard to argue 4-5A, where Zachary, Scotlandville and Central join the three Livingston schools, isn’t the better district.

District 4-5A went 10-2 in the 12 nondistrict matchups pitting teams from the two Baton Rouge-area leagues.

“That’s why it’s so much fun to be part of 4-5A right now,” Live Oak coach Brett Beard said.

Every team in 4-5A heads into district play with a winning record, led by Scotlandville and Walker with perfect 5-0 marks. Zachary, seventh in the 5A state rankings, remains the team to beat with a loss to Shreveport power Calvary Baptist its only blemish.

Denham Springs returns most of its key parts after winning its first playoff game since 1989 last year and sits at 4-1 entering league play.

Live Oak started slow with a home loss to St. Amant in the season opener, but since then the Eagles are 3-1 with their lone setback coming in a 28-27 heartbreaker against West Feliciana.

The six 4-5A teams combined to go 24-6 in pre-district action.

“I think our district had some nondistrict success, and a lot of teams are going in with confidence to start the back half of our schedule,” Denham coach Dru Nettles said. “So that’s going to make it highly competitive.”

The district was top-heavy last season, with Zachary, Scotlandville and Denham combining for six playoff wins but none of the league’s other teams even qualifying for the postseason.

This year, that’s not the case.

First-year coaches at Walker and Live Oak have breathed new life into those programs, and Central seems to have rebounded from a disappointing 2014 in which the Wildcats missed the playoffs for the first time under coach Sid Edwards.

The district is littered with star power at the quarterback position.

Zachary’s Lindsey Scott is back after being named the state’s Outstanding Offensive Player in 5A and leading the Broncos to the state semifinals.

Walker’s Terry Bozeman has passed for 1,259 yards and 21 touchdowns to rank among the state’s passing leaders for the second straight year.

Scotlandville’s Levi Lewis continues to impress through the air and on the ground, having passed for 952 yards and nine scores while rushing for 478 yards on 46 carries.

Denham’s Torez Kinchen is in his third year as a starter and already has three playoff games under his belt.

In an era when power ratings rather than district ranking determine playoff positioning, the path to every team’s ultimate goal — a state championship — is shaped as much by its success in nondistrict action as in league play.

But every player and coach will tell you that winning a district title remains a key source of motivation.

“That’s why you play,” Nettles said. “I know the playoffs are based on power ratings, but your first goal is to try and be a district champion and go into the playoffs to compete against the whole state. It’s a pride thing.”

The chase for the 4-5A title will take five weeks to settle.

To be sure, the team that finishes on top this year will have earned it.

Kelton notches personal best

Denham Springs senior Thomas Kelton continued his stellar cross country season Saturday with his best race yet.

Kelton placed ninth in the St. Joseph’s Invitational as he finished the 3-mile course at Highland Road Park with a personal best time of 15 minutes, 30.88 seconds.

Devyn Keith, of John Curtis, clocked a course-record 14:30.72 to win the race.

Scott Hotard covers sports for The Livingston-Tangipahoa Advocate. He can be contacted at shotard44@gmail.com or livingston@theadvocate.com.