The 2020 season has been atypical for every high school in America, but even without the COVID-19 pandemic, Southern Lab was destined for a year outside the norm.
Usually well-stocked with players in all classes, the Kittens found themselves short on seniors. Fortunately for coach Daryl Asberry, he had enough of the right kind.
Senior running back Lutrell Pruitt has been a rock for the Kittens, who, with victories in their last two outings, have gotten on a roll going into a key District 6-1A game against Slaughter Community Charter at A.W. Mumford Stadium at 7 p.m. Friday.
Pruitt’s contribution goes far beyond his 1,110 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns, and his placekicking duties. The 5-foot-10, 185-pound running back has been a steadying influence in surviving a 1-3 start to improve to 3-3.
“He’s helped us hold things together, a key piece to the run we’re trying to make,” Asberry said. “To have him healthy means a lot. (As) team captain, teammates respond to him. He’s not very vocal but leads by example.”
Pruitt said he knew coming off the consecutive losses in the Class 1A playoff semifinals the past two years meant he needed to step forward, especially since there weren’t many other options. Pruitt was one of five seniors on the roster and only three of them have gotten significant playing time.
Pruitt said he was aware of what was expected of him even before the pandemic turned the season on its head.
“I matured as a leader after last year,” he said. “I tried to encourage the guys in the offseason to work out on their own since we couldn’t work out as a team. I told everyone to stay focused and stay out of trouble.
“I was skeptical about the season. We were just hoping it wouldn’t be cancelled. Playing the 5A schools prepared us for the district schedule and the playoffs, mentally and physically. I don’t look at it like that (being inexperienced. We’re young across the board but we’re coming along pretty well.”
The Kittens have beaten their last two opponents, Thrive Academy and Central Private, by a combined 122-14. Quarterback Angelo Izzard has passed for 1,003 yards and 12 scores to bring balance to a young offense.
The youth was tested further when as three starters have been lost for the season with injuries, two of them juniors.
But with all of the added obstacles on top of the late start to a season that missed out on spring practice, Pruitt has stepped like former teammates, and current LSU Tigers Tyrion Davis and Kardell Thomas.
“He’s a special athlete, a great person,” Asberry said. “He’s an intelligent kid and has a passion about football and the game of life. We talk about (life) being something much bigger than football.
“He’s always asking questions about how life relates to football. He keeps me on my toes and keeps me thinking.”
Pruitt said he can see his teammates improving and pulling together for a late-season run.
“I just try to stay focused on football and set an example for the younger guys and don’t worry about the extra stuff,” he said. “I remember learning from Tyrion Davis-Price Davis and Kardell Thomas, who are playing for LSU. I learned how to work hard and be the best player I could be. I do whatever coach asks me.”