Denham Springs linebacker Brennan Leblanc has heard it before. At 5-foot-9, 185 pounds, Leblanc is undersized for the position and often underestimated.
When skeptics don’t give the Yellow Jackets much of a chance to beat 10th-seeded Hahnville in the first round of the Class 5A playoffs, Leblanc sees an opportunity, not an obstacle.
“We know Hahnville is a good team with a great running back (Kansas commitment Anthony 'Pooka' Williams),” Leblanc said. “Some people are picking them to go all the way to the (Mercedes-Benz Superdome) for the finals. I play with a chip on my should because I like to prove people wrong. We need to play like that. We have to get stops and force punts.”
The sentiment is shared by Walker’s Josh Cook and Live Oak’s Gabe Kimble, the lead linebackers for two other Livingston Parish Class 5A teams that also find themselves in an underdog role Friday night. All three want to take the notion of road warrior to a new level to notch an upset win.
Walker (6-4), seeded 19th, is the highest seed of the District 4-5A Livingston teams. The Wildcats’ task is perhaps the toughest — as they take on No. 14 Landry-Walker (7-3) at Berhman Stadium in New Orleans. Live Oak (5-5) is the 22nd seed and travels to play No. 11 Sulphur (7-2), while No. 23 Denham Springs (6-4) faces Hahnville (8-2).
“We’re playing the defending champion and they’ve got a lot of talented players,” Cook said of Landry-Walker. “We've played talented players and teams. I believe in the game plan our coaches have put in place for us. The thing we have to do is execute it. We can’t come out slow. There can’t play with any doubts, we just have to play.”
All three linebackers may be undersized, but each is a proven playmaker. Leblanc, a junior, is the son of a junior high coach. He has 61 tackles, 22 tackles for loss and 11 sacks. Cook (5-11, 210) is a senior who leads the Wildcats with 104 totals tackles. Kimble (5-11, 205), a sophomore, has grown into the role of a defensive play-caller for LOHS with 89 tackles, including five sacks and five tackles for loss.
Each player embraces the individual challenge Friday night.
“We have to stop the tight end and the running back,” Kimble said. “Sulpur's tight end is a (Division I) prospect and the running back is solid. It is assignment football. We have to play together and do our jobs.”
Sulphur tight end Christian Trahan is a Houston commitment. Running back Glenn Willis has two 200-yard rushing games and has been held to less than 100 yards in just one game. Hahnville is led by Williams (5-8, 185), who has 1,734 rushing yards and 23 TDs.
While there's no 6-6 quarterback to replace last year’s star Keytaon Thompson, Landry-Walker doesn’t lack firepower. Chad Alexander has 902 rushing yards and quarterback Corione Harris, a converted defensive back, has passed for 599 yards.
The linebackers said games against District 4-5A rivals Zachary and Scotlandville have helped prepare them for their playoff challenges.
“Playing a dual-threat QB can be tricky,” Cook said. “You have to be in position and read the plays. When you don’t, you get burned.”
Hard hits to ignite their respective defenses is the stuff the three linebackers dream of.
“Class 5A is known for upsets. … It happens every year,” LeBlanc said. “Why not us?”