If Southern Lab’s defense follows its leader, the Kittens are going to have 11 men around the ball in 2019.

Senior utility man Jabar Triplett can be found in just about any aspect of the defense: rushing the passer as an end, defending the run at linebacker or covering receivers as a safety on the back end.

“We want to keep him around the football as much as possible,” Southern Lab coach Darrel Asberry said. “We’ll move him around depending on what the game plan is.

“He’s gotten bigger and faster but what I like most about him, as a former college coach, is he’s a student of the game. He’s got great character and leadership.”

Triplett has also come a long way. Two years ago, he was a lanky sophomore who weighed 185 pounds and clearly hadn’t filled out. Last season, he blossomed as a 6-foot-1, 200-pound playmaker who had who was all over the field with five interceptions and 11 sacks. He brought two of his interceptions back for touchdowns.

Now, he’s a beefed up 6-2, 220-pounder with college recruiters paying a lot of attention. What he really wants to do is lead the Kittens back to a state championship. He’s following in the footsteps of LSU signees Kardell Thomas and Tyrion Davis from last year.

“I’m more of a leader this year,” he said. “I was a captain last year, but I need to be more vocal. Kardell and Tyrion were the seniors and they were good examples. They always worked hard and pushed me to work hard.

“I want to get my team to a championship. I want everybody on the same page, no one downing each other, keeping it positive.”

Triplett said he’s been living in the weight room and worked hard on speed and footwork drills. He’s also eating smarter, cutting out junk food like candy and chips and eating more fruits, vegetables and lean meats.

“I’m moving faster, and I’m stronger,” he said. “I like playing linebacker. I can stay inside the box, read run or get back in my drop to defend. My goal is to lead the young guys, show them how to work hard.”

Teammate Michael Wicker, who has known Triplett since they were small children, said Triplett has natural leadership skills that are seen and not always heard. They played youth ball for the Baton Rouge Rams.

“He was always ‘that’ guy on the field,” Wicker said. “He was always a great leader but he really started coming out of his shell in high school. He’s a good guy all-around.”

The adults see it, too, on the practice field and in the school halls.

“You always find him doing the right thing,” Southern Lab offensive line coach Thomas Saulsby said. “He’s physical and athletic, everything you want in a linebacker.

“At practice, I tell my blockers to just try to get in his way and slow him down enough so he can’t make the play. He likes hitting and getting the ball away from you.”

That’s what the college coaches like, too. A solid three-star prospect, Triplett is getting interest from in-state schools and some Power 5 conferences. He said Oklahoma State is the leader while he also has offers from Texas Tech and Arizona.

He’s planning to sign early and announce his commitment on Oct. 13. Saulsby said he wouldn’t be surprised if some SEC schools take an interest in him and send offers during the coming season.

“I’m taking it one step at a time,” he said. “You can only play for one school, so I’m checking out all my options.

“College coaches said they would start me as a strong safety on the outside, and as I put weight on move to the inside to linebacker. Either spot is good for me.”