East Ascension beats Dutchtown in overtime thriller _lowres

Advocate file photo by APRIL BUFFINGTON -- Dutchown quarterback Jared Sparks looks downfield against East Ascension in a 2014 game.

Jared Sparks is the guy at quarterback for Dutchtown High school, and it feels great.

After a frustrating 4-7 season in which he primarily played in a backup role while splitting time with starter Brandt Fritsche, the now senior Sparks is ready to lead the Griffins back to the top of the district.

“It feels amazing to know this is my team and that I can lead this team to victory,” Sparks said. “I don’t want to say I don’t have people behind me, but at the same time, going into it knowing I’m the guy, it really feels great.”

Sparks said he understands the decision to leave him in the backup role after looking at where his game is now compared to where it was last season. He needed to progress further in his level of play to fully take the reigns.

Now, as the lone starter, he’s more confident in himself and, with the weapons at his disposal around him, he said he thinks this could be a big season for the Griffins.

“I can take more (chances), but I also have to make smarter decisions,” Sparks said. “Our focus this year is on decreasing the amount of turnovers we had because that was a big issue for us last year. We’re just focusing on making smart decisions.”

As a dual-threat quarterback, Sparks spent a significant portion of the offseason working on his pocket presence and footwork, but he said he knows his ability to pull down the ball and run is going to be a major facet of the offense as well.

Dutchtown coach Benny Saia said he’s excited to see what the athletic Sparks can bring to the offense, saying he’s the type of player who has the potential to do a lot of the heavy lifting. But Saia added that he also wants to see the offense return to a more balanced approach than last season.

“We want to do whatever it takes to win,” Saia said. “I think going through a season like we went through last year makes you even hungrier to have those goals. If that means throwing it 50 times a game or if it means running it 50 times, whatever it takes to win, that’s what we want to do.”

Sparks won’t have much time to get his feet wet as the starter.

Dutchtown hosts rival Lutcher in the opening week of the regular season a year after the Bulldogs opened the 2014 season with a 19-14 win in which the Griffins turned the ball over five times, including a Sparks fumble.

Saia said that game set the tone for the rest of the season — a fact Sparks is more than aware of.

This time around, though, Sparks is hoping the momentum swings in Dutchtown’s favor.

“I feel like we have something to prove,” Sparks said. “I feel like a lot of people are down on us because of what happened last year, but I know deep within myself and within the team, that we’re better than that.”