East Ascension High football coach Darnell Lee knows there is no magic formula. But after his team advanced to the quarterfinal playoff round for the first time since 2004 last fall, Lee is eager to see what the 2019 season holds.

“It is for real now,” Lee said. “We’ve got a lot of guys with experience. But there are still questions … still things we need to find out and places where young guys need to succeed. We will be tested early and then go from there.”

The 2019 prep season kicks off with an 8:30 a.m. Monday practice for Lee and the Class 5A Spartans. LHSAA schools  begin practice either Monday or on Aug. 12, depending on whether they completed a traditional spring practice or not.

When Lee says the Spartans will be tested early, it is not an exaggeration. East Ascension hosts two-time defending 5A champion Zachary High to open the season.

Contrast the EAHS story with that of Istrouma and see how diverse high school football in the Baton Rouge area will be in 2019 in Baton Rouge. Istrouma, a storied program in the 1950s and 1960s, will play varsity football for the first time since the school reopened in 2017. The Indians are part of refashioned District 7-4A.

There are frontrunners and traditional powers. Zachary has won three of the past four Class 5A titles. University High won back-to-back Division II select titles. Catholic High of 5A/Division I has won two LHSAA titles in the past four years. Traditional Class 1A/Division IV power Southern Lab was a semifinalist a year ago.

Three other schools join Istrouma as varsity newcomers. Central Private, a longtime member of the Mississippi Association of Independent schools, joins the Class 1A ranks and in District 6-1A with Southern Lab.

“On a scale of one to 10, I’m at a 12 in terms of excitement and so is the team,” Istrouma coach Jeremy Gradney said. “They’ve worked hard this summer, and now they will see the fruits of their labor. There will be adjustments. Just playing under Friday night lights, the attention that brings and the fans that go with it will be new.”

Here are three storylines to watch:

THE BATTLE OF THE 5A: Can Districts 4-5A and 5-5A be a high school version of the Southeastern Conference East and SEC West? It certainly is a possibility.

Zachary leads the 4-5A ranks for obvious reasons. Scotlandville has a Division I runner-up finish on its résumé. Perhaps the biggest move was off the field when Walker High hired University High coach Chad Mahaffey in the offseason.

The 5-5A cast is led by Catholic and East Ascension. The other two Ascension schools, St. Amant and Dutchtown, have positions to fill but are always formidable. Each has a quarterfinals berth in the not too distant past.

OTHER FACES IN NEW PLACES: Just as notable as Mahaffey going to Walker was Parkview Baptist enticing former Christian Life Academy and Louisville quarterback Stefan LeFors to return to Louisiana. LeFors was 86-20 in eight seasons at Christian Academy of Louisville with two Class 2A titles.

Former Glen Oaks and LSU quarterback Marcus Randall moves to Woodlawn, which is moving from Class 4A to 5A. Cyril Crutchfield, who won LHSAA titles at South Plaquemines and coached Leonard Fournette at St. Augustine, is at Broadmoor. 

WHO’S GOT TALENT? BR DOES: University High defensive lineman Jaquelin Roy is listed as the Louisiana’s top prospect for 2020, according to 247sports.

Two other local players also committed to LSU, defensive back Major Burns of Madison Prep and defensive lineman Jalen Lee of Live Oak, are ranked in the top 10.

Email Robin Fambrough at rfambrough@theadvocate.com