Southern Lab quarterback Bladrick Veal has one last chance to wipe away the memories of last season.
Twelve months ago, the Kittens, led by Veal, lost to Ouachita Christian 52-6 in the Division IV state championship game, and it has haunted him ever since.
Which is why Friday night is more than his final high school game. It’s a chance to hoist the trophy that’s eluded him throughout his career — it’s a chance at redemption.
“It was just a bad feeling,” Veal said of the 2014 championship game. “It left a bad taste in our mouth for the seniors because they had been there for so long — for four years — and it felt bad.”
No. 6 Southern Lab (9-3) is slated to return to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Friday to play No. 4 St. Mary’s (13-0) at 10 a.m, but Veal said something is different about the Kittens this week compared to last season.
Southern Lab is more confident this time around because it knows what to expect. Last season, Veal said, the week leading up to the championship game was filled with nerves and uncertainty about what awaited them in New Orleans.
But this year the Kittens are taking a been-there-done-that approach to Friday morning’s game, a fact made easier by Southern Lab returning 16 starters from last season.
“It feels a lot different (this year),” Veal said. “I’m not really nervous any more, nobody is really nervous. The stage was too big for us last year, and we didn’t really know how to act or overcome it.
“This year, we’re more mature. We’ve been there.”
Veal has also been more confident in his own play this season, despite his numbers not always showing it.
He’s thrown for 2,043 yards and 11 touchdowns going 104-of-216 passing.
First-year coach and former LSU quarterback Marcus Randall said those numbers don’t show the extent to which Veal has played, though, as he’s worked to install a new system that puts his quarterback into more of a game manager role.
Veal said the team was slow to adjust to the new system at the beginning of the season but has since embraced it.
“If we had needed to throw it more, I think we would’ve had a chance to showcase him a little more,” Randall said. “But due to the running game and the way we’ve been running the ball with the three seniors running backs that we have, we didn’t have a need to force him to throw it 30-40 times, which I think he is capable of doing those things.”
The three-star, dual-threat quarterback made the decision to hold off any announcements about his future playing career until after this weekend.
Veal has offers from Nebraska, Ole Miss, Houston, Michigan and Louisiana Tech, among others, but doesn’t want to announce any narrowed list of schools until he’s able to meet with coaches again during the offseason.
“I’m just waiting until after this game because this is the biggest game in high school football,” Veal said. “I’m just waiting for all the coaches to come back in the offseason and just narrow it down from there and see where I want to go, see what place fits me, what style and what offense I feel most comfortable with.”