Editor's note: This is the 16th in a 30-day series highlighting high school football teams in the Acadiana area. Up next are the Catholic-New Iberia Panthers.
WHAT WE KNOW
Catholic-New Iberia is seeking its third consecutive state championship game appearance, and the Panthers are primed for another deep playoff run with an explosive offensive backfield featuring senior quarterback Trey Amos and senior running back Tray Henry.
Amos, who committed to UL as an athlete Friday, is a wizard when it comes to running coach Brent Indest's Wing-T offense. As a junior, Amos rushed for nearly 1,600 yards with 31 touchdowns and averaged more than 10 yards per carry. He also completed 31-of-61 passes for 736 yards and nine touchdowns.
Not to be outdone, Henry ran for 142 yards and four touchdowns in a first-round playoff win over St. Thomas Aquinas last year. Henry, Indest said, "is the one poised to have a breakout year if he stays healthy."
The leading receiver from 2018, Peter LeBlanc has taken his talents to UL, but there's an impressive sophomore waiting in the wings in KK Reno. On defense, Indest returns five of his top six defensive backs from the 2018 squad, which lost to Notre Dame in the Division III championship game.
Reno "is vital to what we do on defense," said Indest, who said the sophomore makes all the calls in the secondary from his free safety position. Reno will also play wingback on offense. Indest is grooming Henry to back up Reno at free safety so the sophomore can get an occasional breather.
"We feel really good about what we have on defense from linebacker on back," said Indest, who welcomes the return of last year's interception leader, strong safety Nick Borne. An all-state honorable mention last year, Borne picked off four passes. The Panthers have four seniors in the secondary, including rover Keith Dupuy.
The leading tackler from 2018, outside linebacker Chris Landry is also back for his senior campaign. Landry collected 75 solo stops last year with four interceptions for a defense that held six opponents to single-digit scoring. Middle linebacker Kolby Pressley is also a returning starter.
WHAT WE DON'T KNOW
"Offensive line is the big question mark for us," said Indest, who brings back two of five starters from last year's unit.
While acknowledging that the interior is "getting better and better each day," Indest said the offensive line will be much smaller, which will place more emphasis on technique. Right tackle John Larive, a senior, has great size at 6-foot-3, 305 pounds.
Although the secondary is deep and experienced, Indest is looking for a new cornerback opposite senior Avery Guidry, who is also a star pitcher/shortstop on the Panthers' baseball team.
Guidry has one side of the field locked down, but the Panthers need either Shay Lee or Cam Hall to step into the other cornerback spot so Amos won't have to play every down on offense and defense. Lee is an intriguing prospect who looks the part. "Hopefully one will step up," Indest said of his two promising sophomore cornerbacks.
Only one starter returns on the defensive line, but he's a good one. "Mason Boutte is the only one with significant playing time," said Indest of the state champion powerlifter. A 5-9, 195-pound junior defensive end, Boutte can squat 500 pounds.
Indest is relying on his other defensive end, sophomore Russell Davis, to contribute heavily. Davis, Indest said, is "a long guy at 6-1, 195 pounds who looks like he is still growing and had a really good spring."
HOW WE SEE IT
The Panthers have lost only three games over the past two seasons combined, but Indest said his team "could conceivably be 0-3 after the first three games and still have a heck of a football team."
Catholic-New Iberia opens the season at home against Vermilion Catholic, a team Indest said could be the favorite to win Division IV. In Week 2, the Panthers travel to Class 4A power Breaux Bridge before returning to New Iberia to host perennial 5A contender Barbe.
With Amos and Henry, the Panthers have shown they can score points against larger programs. Last year, Catholic amassed 520 yards rushing and scored 48 points in a Week 1 win at 4A Westgate.
The remaining games are district contests. The Panthers cruised through league competition last year, winning every game by at least 23 points.
Sept. 6: Vermilion Catholic
Indest is wary of Vermilion Catholic and its battle-tested team. "The thing about VC is they have 17 returning starters," the Panthers coach said. "They're going to be probably better in Game 1 than they were in Game 14 last year. From the start of practice, they can begin the first day doing Calculus. With all our new starters, we'll spend the first day doing addition and subtraction."
Indest expressed admiration for Vermilion Catholic coach Kevin Fouquier, who he describes as "good a defensive coach as there is." Indest went on to characterize the Week 1 matchup as "a heavyweight fight with two contrasting styles. They're going to sling it all over the place."
Catholic-New Iberia has a veteran staff with three of its most senior coaches possessing a combined 100 years of experience. There's a new face on the staff in former John Curtis and Army defensive back Brandon Porter, who will oversee the cornerbacks.
Indest said his program is fortunate to have brought in Porter as a non-faculty coach. "Having him around is a godsend," said Indest, who lamented his secondary's struggles in last year's 57-54 win over Country Day in the Division III semifinals.
QB/CB Trey Amos, 6-1, 175, Sr.
The future Ragin' Cajun is considered one of the top 50 seniors in the state. His presence alone makes the Panthers a viable contender to win a second state title in three years. In last year's 35-7 defeat of previously undefeated Dunham in the quarterfinals, Amos ran for 185 yards and three touchdowns. An elite athlete, Amos is also a huge threat returning kicks.
RB Tray Henry, 6-1 180, Sr.
Henry has gotten not only bigger but faster since last season. "It's like he had a late growth spurt," said Indest, who will also send Henry into the defensive backfield on occasion. In last year's win over Westgate, Henry gained 173 yards on 15 carries. He's a tough, inside runner who hits the hole quickly.
WB/FS KK Reno, 5-11, 175, Soph.
The CHNI coaching staff has confidence in Reno, who made all the secondary calls as a freshman free safety. Reno "gets us into the coverages relative to opposing offenses' formations," said Indest, who will also "try to sneak Reno down the field at wingback and get him the ball." The sophomore could grow into a linebacker, his coach said.
LB Chris Landry, 6-2, 180, Sr.
A former safety, Landry led the 2018 team with 100 tackles. He makes the calls at the front end of the CHNI defense and is regarded by his coach as "a real cerebral player who understands what people are trying to do." With the number of spread offenses the Panthers face, Landry is considered a hybrid outside linebacker/strong safety.
SS Nick Borne, 6-2, 175, Sr.
Borne does a great job of getting into passing lanes, said Indest, adding that "you don't have to be in perfect position every time when you're 6-2 and have long arms." The Panthers thought about moving Borne to linebacker, but "he's just so good at strong safety that we couldn't afford to lose him," Indest said. Borne played a huge role in containment against Dunham five-star prospect Derek Stingley in last year's playoff game.
Head coach: Brent Indest
Record: 178-82 overall
6 VERMILLION CATHOLIC
13 Breaux Bridge
4 Ascension Episcopal*
18 WEST ST. MARY*
25 Houma Christian*
* denotes district game
HOME GAMES ALL CAPS
Beat Westgate 48-14
Beat ST. LOUIS 42-14
Beat St. Thomas More 63-7
Lost to NOTRE DAME 49-0
Beat Jeanerette 63-6
Beat West St. Mary 63-26
Beat LOREAUVILLE 68-8
Beat Delcambre 63-0
Beat ASCENSION EPISCOPAL 58-35
Beat FRANKLIN 52-6
Beat ST. THOMAS MORE 48-0
Beat Denham Springs 35-7
Beat Country Day 57-54
Lost to Notre Dame 42-21
PAST FIVE SEASONS
2018: 12-2 (state runner-up)
2017: 12-1 (state champion)
2014: 12-1 (state runner-up)
Key losses: WR Peter LeBlanc, DE Marlon Brown, WB Zoe Cormier, LB Armon LeBlanc, OL Jacob Poe, OL Jerry Mullen, OL Colby Hebert
Base offense: Wing T
Base defense: 3-5
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
WR Gordon Cazelot (5-11, 160, Sr.)
WR KK Reno (5-11, 175, So.)
TE Russell Lewis (6-2, 270, So.)
OT Eian Nathan (5-10, 210, Jr.)
OG Stan Allen (5-8, 190, Jr.)
C Marshall Schexnayder (6-1, 180, Sr.)
OG Jean Paul Boudreaux (5-9, 210, Sr.)*
OT John Larive (6-3, 305, Sr.)*
QB Trey Amos (6-1, 175, Sr.)*
FB Tray Henry (6-1 180, Sr.)*
RB Evan Nguyen (5-9, 155, Jr.)
DE Mason Boutte (5-9, 185, Jr.)*
DT Russell Davis (6-2, 180, So.)
DE Ross Molbert (5-8, 215, Jr.)
LB Kolby Pressley (5-9, 245, Sr.)*
LB Chris Landry (6-2, 180, Sr.)*
LB Carson Stiles (5-9, 175, Jr.)
CB Avery Guidry (6-1, 170, Sr.)*
CB Trey Amos (6-1, 175, Sr.)*
SS Keith Dupuy (5-9, 150, Sr.)*
SS Nick Borne (6-2, 175, Sr.)*
FS KK Reno (5-11, 175, So.)*
* denotes returning starter