That University High football team will take the field Friday at Jeff Boss Field against White Castle with a shiny new No. 3 ranking in Class 2A might appear to be unchartered territory.
For this year’s team that might be the case but before the current group of Cubs were born the school was regarded as one of the state’s top programs during a memorable 19-year span with six state championship game appearances, including titles in 1971 and ‘88.
Upon his arrival two years ago U-High football coach Chad Mahaffey tried to reconnect the school’s celebrated past with his players and invited two members of the school’s last state championship team - head coach Willis Stelly and quarterback Chad Loup - to address his team and get them to believe in the same dreams they achieved more than two decades ago.
“We tried to put those guys in touch with their history,” Mahaffey said. “Just to try and reinforce that kids just like them have been on the championship level and done it. Hopefully these guys will strive for those same things.”
Lofty predictions and preseason rankings have torn away at any anonymity U-High (2-0) may have enjoyed in any other year. The Cubs, after a 7-5 season and fifth place finish in District 7-2A last season, were the coaches’ favorite to win the league and also began the season ranked sixth in the Louisiana Sportswriter’s Association preseason poll.
Thanks to consecutive road wins to open the season, including a 27-6 victory over Newman, U-High has risen to No. 3 behind top-ranked John Curtis (2-0) and No. 2 Winnfield (2-0).
“It’s nice to be recognized and people think of you, but people probably thought we weren’t going to be very good last year and ended up being OK,” Mahaffey said. “It doesn’t necessarily prove anything. We’ve strived and worked and think we have the ability to be a championship team but there’s so much to be proven.”
With 14 starters back from a team that advanced to the Class 2A regionals a year ago - falling to John Curtis - prospects were high for U-High where the experience was evenly divided with seven starters back on both sides of the ball.
Mahaffey credited some of his team’s elevated status to the return of freshman running back Nick Brossette, who rushed for 1,018 yards and 17 yards as an eighth-grader. Senior quarterback Kyle Crifasi also returned after passing for 1,091 yards and directing a spread offense that generated 27 points a game in 2010.
The return of four senior starters on the offensive line was another source of optimism for this year’s team.
Brossette’s off to another strong start with 38 carries for 252 yards and two touchdowns. Crifasi has completed 11 of 23 passes for 192 yards and 2 TDs and rushed 18 times for 124 yards and three scores. Zach Aguilar (4-79, TD) and Tristan Cooper (4-76, 2 TDs) are the team’s leading receivers.
U-High’s defense has been another strength, allowing just one touchdown in two games.
Junior defensive back Jarrod Franklin, who hadn’t played football since middle school, leads the Cubs with 14 tackles and three blocked punts. Senior strong safety William Armstrong (13 tackles, fumble recovery) and junior defensive end Tim Williams (12 tackles, fumble recovery) have made major contributions along with senior defensive end Hayes Stewart (three sacks).
With its scrimmage, jamboree and first two games on the road, U-High makes its highly anticipated home debut Friday. The Cubs start with reigning Class 1A state champion White Castle and follow with Loyola Prep of Shreveport and Live Oak. The solid start is expected to generate plenty of buzz.
“It will definitely be a nice atmosphere and I know the kids are excited about that,” Mahaffey said. “We expect a good crowd. We’ve had good practices which is the best indicator for me. As long as they keep preparing in the right way they’ll have the chance to continue to do well.”