Few would have bet on Live Oak and Walker having a combined total of 10 football wins before Week 10.
The District 4-5A teams from Livingston Parish have beaten the odds and a number of opponents. And now there’s one final exam.
Live Oak (5-4, 2-2) sits at No. 28 in the latest LHSAA power ratings. The Eagles travel to Central (5-4, 2-2). Walker (5-4, 0-4) hosts Zachary (8-1, 4-0). Walker currently holds down the final playoff spot at No. 32. Zachary can clinch an outright district title with a win.
While the numbers are notable, the story behind them is even better.
“I knew exactly what I was getting when I came here,” first-year LOHS coach Brett Beard said. “It was a program that needed a little TLC. Part of it was changing the attitude.
“We told them there would be a learning curve. In the past, they’ve had a tendency to accept 4-6 or 5-5. This is a nice start. Our goals for the future are much higher. One thing I wanted to see was a team that would play hard for all 48 minutes. We’ve done that.”
After coming over from a successful stint at Woodlawn, Beard inherited a LOHS team that was 4-6 last year. The task was much tougher for first-year Walker coach Brandon Lawley. The Wildcats had lost 28 of their last 30 games, including 18 in a row. Walker hadn’t won a district game in five seasons.
Like Beard, Lawley knew what he was facing. The former Parkview Baptist player was an assistant coach at WHS in 2014.
“We had to change the culture ,and we knew that wouldn’t be easy,” Lawley said. “When we got off to a 5-0 start, it definitely helped build the team’s confidence. Now, it might have been nice to have some of those tougher games, like Scotlandville, worked in early in the season. It got people excited, and that was a good thing.
“But a program isn’t built in nine months. We wanted to build a base to grow from. And to change the culture. We’ve been in every game we played but took some lumps with onside kicks that turned two games around. Now instead of talking about competing, we talk about how to win games.”
Beard said it’s no secret that he put several of LOHS’ most talented athletes on defense. But there’s more to it than a talented line and linebacker corps in a 3-4 alignment.
“These guys are good athletes, but the most important thing is they fit together as a unit,” Beard said. “They get it. … They get what the concept of playing as a unit is.
“The biggest mistake for most high school players is this: they try to make every play. When you play as a unit and take care of your responsibilities, those chances come.”
Michael Crowson, a senior who hadn’t played since he was a freshman, helps anchor the defensive line as the nose guard. Rhett Sumar and Ben Johnson are the other starters. Kyle Knapps and Brett Frazier are part of the linebacker group.
Much has been made of Walker’s offense led by quarterback Terry Bozeman, who enters Friday’s game with 1,967 yards and 25 touchdowns. Receiver Darius Hampton and running back Tristan Taylor have made their marks.
Lawley lauds his defense that is led by linebackers Kyle Nevels and Henry Monley, along with defensive end Noah Cox.
“Last year only one other team in the state gave up more points than us,” Lawley said. “We gave up 554, which was an average of 56 points a game. Now that average is somewhere in the 20s.
“Defense has become a point of pride.”
After Live Oak claimed a 16-14 landmark win over Livingston rival Denham Springs last month, Beard congratulated his team on being part of 4-5A. He told them they belonged in the 4-5A spotlight.
Neither coach knows exactly what’s in store next, including Friday night. But they like the possibilities.