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Central Private football coach Robby Mahfouz

CENTRAL — There has been more than the usual buzz around Central Private School athletics this summer.

There is a new mascot. And the Red Hawks are among the new members of the LHSAA, a move that will soon be felt by their football team in a real way.

Previously, as a member of the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools, Central Private was normally preparing to play in a jamboree game at this time of year. Instead, CPS is now part of the LHSAA's Class 1A.

“For the Mississippi league, we would have had our jamboree next week and our first game would be in the middle of August,” second-year CPS coach Robbie Mahfouz said. “Instead of starting two weeks before the LHSAA, this year we got extra time in the weight room and extra practice, which is good.”

Central Private, whose LHSAA membership was approved in June of last year, will compete in District 6-1A, which also includes traditional power Southern Lab. The Red Hawks won’t be eligible for postseason play as a first-year member, which will allow them to dip their toes into the waters of LHSAA competition before diving in next year.

“We’re all excited about it,” Mahfouz said. “We’re looking forward to getting our feet wet and getting into our district. We can’t play for district honors for one year — we have that probationary period that everyone has when they come into the LHSAA, but we get power points like everybody else.”

The ability to earn power points will allow the Red Hawks to gauge where they stand against teams they aren’t familiar with. It will also provide incentive for them to work for a top 16 ranking, which will be good enough to put them into the playoffs in coming seasons. Central Private isn't the only 6-1A newcomer. Thrive Academy, located near LSU, is also set for its first varsity season.

Central Private finished 4-5 last season, but was 0-3 in MAIS District 5-3A. Included in the district record was one last game against longtime rival Silliman Institute of Clinton.

The Red Hawks will look to make their mark in the LHSAA with a squad of 29 players. On offense, a pair of senior skill players, wide receiver Cole Birdsong and running back Kaleb Fontenot are among four top returnees.

Defensively, all-district linebacker Mason Bailey, a junior, leads a group of six returning players.

“We had about (29 kids) last year, just like most of the other 1A schools,” Mahfouz said. “We’re thin on depth and we don’t have a lot of lineman types, but we’ve got some pretty good skill guys coming back. They know the system and they’re all good kids.”

The Red Hawks will likely face one of their sternest tests in recent seasons when they host another traditional power, defending Division III champion Notre Dame of Crowley in Week 8. Central Private was originally scheduled to play The Church Academy, which closed its campus after the 2018-19 school year.

“(The Church Academy) was our Week 8 game, and the only school in Louisiana that was looking for a Week 8 game was Notre Dame,” Mahfouz said. “So they’re coming to us that week. Its going to be exciting to play a program of that caliber.”

Playing the Pioneers will be part of a new direction for Central Private, but it’s a path that was chosen because of the benefits for all of the Red Hawks sports teams.

“This opens up a scenario where we’re not real familiar with the people on our schedule, but it cuts down on travel for all of our sports,” Mahfouz said. “We were traveling two hours on a Tuesday night to play a junior varsity basketball game. Even though it doesn’t affect football as much, its much more convenient for the other sports.”