DENHAM SPRINGS - A 3-0 start was one of the goals Denham Springs High football coach Dru Nettles envisioned for his team. Nettles and the Yellow Jackets want more.
Are these Yellow Jackets comparable to some of the school’s great teams from the 1970s and 1980s?
The answer has yet to be determined. Nettles sees determination as a key part of the formula for additional success.
“Because we have more than 70 juniors and seniors, there were expectations going back to the spring,” Nettles said. “With the skill players we have, I think there’s also a lot of potential, certainly.
“Those things don’t take into account what happens once you start playing, like injuries and other adversity. So far, we’ve responded to every situation. We’re trying to make the next step with our program, and this is part of it.”
DSHS has the chance to prove its mettle on a higher level with a series of key games starting this week. The Yellow Jackets travel to Metairie to take on Archbishop Rummel (3-0) at 2 p.m. Saturday at Joe Yenni Stadium.
DSHS will then face two local teams that are also off to 3-0 starts, East Ascension and District 4-5A rival Scotlandville.
When Nettles talks about a steady progression for the Yellow Jackets, he isn’t just referring to the week-to-week process in the regular season.
Denham Springs snapped a long playoff drought in 2008 and has made three straight playoff appearances. Along with prominence in 4-5A, the Yellow Jackets are looking to become the first DSHS team to advance to the playoffs four straight years.
Then there’s the quest for that elusive playoff win. Denham Springs’ last playoff win was Nov. 10, 1989, over Bogalusa.
As the program has rebounded under Nettles, who played for the Yellow Jackets in the 1980s, there have been gains in quality and quantity. DSHS will take 90 varsity players to the Rummel game and has more than 150 players in the program.
“In Class 5A, you have to have numbers, but you also have to have quality,” Nettles said. “We’re just now getting to the point that when someone is injured, we’ll have at least one player of comparable ability.
“You have good teams and players on 4A, 3A and 2A, but the difference in 5A is the depth. And you have to be well-rounded. Everyone in 5A is well-coached, especially in this area. It’s taken some time for us to get where we needed to be.”
The Yellow Jackets have a marquee player in junior running back Kaleb Blanchard. When Blanchard went down with a preseason shoulder injury, two other players, Anthony Bracey and Justin Martin, stepped in and excelled, providing key depth.
In two games, Blanchard has 175 yards and four touchdowns. Bracey is second with 152 yards and two TDs.
Redemptorist transfer Kyle Cedotal has stepped in at quarterback and passed for 413 yards and four touchdowns. Dron Singleton (eight catches, 212 yards, three TDs) is the top receiver.
After beating 4A Broadmoor to open the season, Denham Springs posted key wins over two significant local 5A rivals: Woodlawn (50-39) and Catholic High (21-14).
“I was excited, because since I’ve been here, we’d never beaten Catholic,” DSHS offensive lineman Austin Loup said. “As big as that was, we know we can’t take anything for granted.
“Like coach said, everybody in 5A is good. You have to work hard and prepare every week. That’s what we try to do.”
Loup, an all-district player a year ago at tackle, now plays guard and is one of the leaders for the Yellow Jackets, who have also managed to get key defensive plays. Reggie Williams made a key tackle against Woodlawn. Another offensive lineman, Tevin Lawson, moved to defense and made a key stop against Catholic.
“On offense, need to continue to develop consistency,” Nettles said. “On defense, we’ve done some good things, and there is plenty of room for growth.”
Loup said part of the growth for this year’s DSHS team has involved taking on leadership roles and developing a camaraderie. Summer conditioning provided the perfect vehicle for improvement.
“We like playing together,” Loupe said. “Practice is tough. There’s nobody else we’d rather be out in the 100-degree heat working with than this group of teammates.”
In Rummel, Denham Springs faces a team that also likes to run the ball and play solid defense. Both teams are currently ranked just outside the Class 5A top 10.
“Rummel is a lot like us, because they do like to run the ball,” Nettles said. “They’re not a team we normally play, and playing on Saturday will be something new for us. Challenges like this give you something to look forward to.”