The lofty goal of returning to the state finals remains the No. 1 priority for the Ascension Blue Gators football program.

YOUNGSVILLE — The Ascension Episcopal Blue Gators will return a solid nucleus from last season's 9-3 team, but coach Matt Desormeaux is also sifting his personnel to fill the holes left by some key seniors.

"We have a lot of question marks and positions to figure out," said Desormeaux, who has a career record of 30-7 with the Blue Gators.

"The position where we can probably need to improve the most is linebacker. We lost a big-time team leader in inside linebacker Austin Arceneaux, who made all the calls. It's an open battle at that position where we need somebody to step up."

The Blue Gators will feature an experienced offensive line that should provide ample protection for junior quarterback Cole Simon.

"Our quarterback is coming back," Desormeaux said. "Cole started most of the season two years ago as a freshman. He has a ton of experience and is a leader."

Junior offensive tackle Clay Ancelet, who played last season at 6-4, 230 pounds, is a player to watch.

"Clay is our left tackle and is one of the strongest on the team," Desormeaux said. "We only lost one offensive lineman and have a couple of good options there. As a team, we've gotten a lot stronger in the weight room, which is important at a small school."

Desormeaux will have to replace two senior wide receivers from last year's high-scoring team in Seth Kerstetter and Brooks Whittington.

"We lost our big guy, Seth, as well as Brooks, but we have a couple of players coming back," Desormeaux said. "Will Kerstetter has a really good relationship with Cole, and Ethan Leoni is a great player for us. He's more of an H-Back.

"Ethan did a really good job last year as a receiving threat, and he's a hard-nosed blocker. We're very fortunate to have him back. He's like having another lineman in the trenches on running plays."

Asa Freeman is penciled in as the new starter to replace Jhalen Brown at running back.

"We lost a really good back," Desormeaux said of Brown, who ran for 288 yards against Country Day in his final game.

The secondary could be the team's strength.

"We have three or four back and one, (senior strong safety) Jaime Cordova, has started since he was a freshman," Desormeaux said.

Desormeaux has been preaching to his players that they can't be complacent.

"We want to go above and beyond what we did last year," he said. "An appearance in the quarterfinals is not good enough. Our goal every year is to first be perfect at home, then we want to win district and, of course, everybody wants to win state.

"I think winning district and being undefeated at home are realistic goals. From there, we should get a good spot in the playoffs. We want to see these guys push themselves every day and not accept just anything."