Loranger football coach Sam Messina knows there’s more to winning a district title than just willing it to be so.

Messina’s Wolves have shared the past two District 8-3A titles with Amite. Though Loranger has 13 returning starters, Messina said it’s up to his team and the rest of the league to make their move.

Until then, expect Amite to be the team to beat in the Hammond area district that boasts a long legacy of success.

“What it comes down to is making big plays at crucial times in big games,” Messina said. “We’ve been fortunate enough to be in games with Amite the last couple of years that have gone right down to the wire.

“One or two mistakes one way or the other made the difference. “Amite made a few more plays, and they’re the team that advanced to the semifinals last year. I think you have to rank them first.”

Amite coach Alden Foster takes the praise in stride. Foster’s Warriors have 17 starters back from a 10-4 team that lost to eventual state champion Union Parish in the Class 3A semifinals.

AHS also was the 3A runner-up to St. Charles in 2011.

“To me, it looks like it’s going to be another tough year in the same old district,” Foster said. “We’ve got a lot of guys back and I can see based on the summer and the things we’ve done in practice that we can be better than last year.

“But there are other teams in the district that are feeling the same way. Loranger has guys back and so does Jewel Sumner, Bogalusa has talent. Independence had a rare down year. They’re going to be back in it, and they’re young.”

Safeties Myron Dokes and Josh Perry help lead the way for Foster’s squad, along with quarterback Kenner Harrell, the Offensive MVP for 8-3A a year ago. One thing Foster has stressed in the offseason is physical play.

Independence coach Keith Carona expressed some of the same sentiments. After missing the playoffs the past two seasons, Carona makes it clear what the Tigers’ primary objective is.

“Making it to the playoffs is the major goal for us,” Carona said. “Not making it two years in a row is enough. We’re going to be young — we’ll start six sophomores and some freshmen, but I really like this team.

“Last year we were so close in some ways. A play here or a play there in the fourth quarter made the difference between us being in the playoffs and finishing 4-6 like we did. We’ve placed a lot of emphasis on being in great shape physically so we can make those fourth-quarter plays.”

Jewel Sumner finished 8-3 a year ago and also is led by another safety, Kijuan Lee. Jewel Sumner coach Zephaniah Powell sees predistrict games as pivotal for the Cowboys, who have some key holes to fill.

“We have most of our offensive line back, and we have quite a few guys back on defense,” Powell said.

“Where we’re inexperienced is at quarterback and offensive backfield, along with linebacker. We’ll need to grow up in a hurry in those predistrict games to be ready for district.”

Lorganer finished 7-5 a year ago and again will rely on running back Cody James, who rushed for 1,092 yards a year ago. James also will play more at linebacker.

Meanwhile, senior quarterback Reggie Roberts is back to lead Bogalusa, which like Independence missed on the playoffs in 2013. Senior running back Navante Brown is one of the returning veterans for Independence.