One district rarely features two LHSAA champions from the previous year and a third team two years removed from a title-game berth. Factor in the talent District 8-2A has and the notion of best in Class 2A comes to mind.

Independence coach Scott Shaffett isn’t afraid to take things to another level when he talks about 8-2A and the assets it has.

“I’m not sure there are any districts, even on the 5A level, that can match it,” Shaffett said. “You’ve got Amite and Kentwood who won titles last year. St. Helena was in the finals the year before. The talent level is unbelievable. And you’ve got rivalries. I think our district has it all.”

Most districts have a backstory. One of the three for 8-2A is a tragedy. Amite lineman Terrance Allen collapsed and died following a June conditioning workout, giving the season serious undertones.

“TJ was 15 years old … a great young man and he is no longer with us,” Amite coach Zephaniah Powell said. “That is with us every day. It has brought us closer. It is important for us to honor his life in what we do, that we take care of his family and that we take care of each other.”

Winning a second straight Class 2A title is the goal for the Warriors, who return depth and talent in seemingly all the right places. Defensive back Daran Branch is a Miami commitment and running back/linebacker Corey McKnight ran for 1,400 yards last season for a team that sent defensive lineman Ishmael Sopsher (Alabama), receiver Devonta Lee (LSU) and quarterback Amani Gilmore (Kentucky) to the Southeastern Conference.

The story behind Kentwood’s move back into 2A after winning its second 1A title in four years is another story. KHS inadvertently submitted enrollment figures for the LHSAA’s classification process that included middle school students who were not supposed to be counted.

By the time the issue was discovered, it was too late to appeal. However, Kentwood’s move to 2A for the first time since the 1990s puts three tradition-rich Tangipahoa schools and St. Helena — all located within 20 miles of each other — in one league.

“I love it,” Kentwood coach Jonathan Foster said. “One thing you can be sure of, the teams from this district will be ready for the playoffs. You may have four teams make a deep playoff run.”

There are ties that bind the schools and their coaches. Kentwood’s Foster is a former Amite High star. Second-year coach Johnny Felder of St. Helena played quarterback at his school. Shaffett spent much of his career as an assistant at Kentwood and now leads an Indy program that was one of the state’s best in the 1990s and early 2000s.

Pine, a 7-4 team a year ago, is located down the road in Washington Parish and is considered an up-and-coming challenger.

The coaches agree Amite is the team to beat. Powell said the Warriors, like the neighbors welcome the challenge.

“That desire and drive to play for state titles is part of who these kids are,” Powell said. “It was here long before I got here and will be here after I’m gone. Amite High football is part of the community. They grow up expecting to win.”

The Warriors broke through and beat Welsh 47-20 in last December. It was the school’s first title since winning 3A in 2004. AHS has been a runner-up three times since 2011. Bryce Cooper, who Foster said might be among the best linebackers to ever play at Kentwood, is back to lead the Kangaroos, who like Amite has a wealth of athleticism.

Running back Corey Leblanc (1,648 yards, 17 TDs) and quarterback Deshon Singleton (1,382 passing yards, 12 TDs) are back for St. Helena. Pine QB Logan Temples passed for 2,253 yards and 14 touchdowns a year ago.

“It is like playing in the SEC East,” St. Helena’s Felder said. “Every week will be something.”

Predicted finish

AMITE

HEAD COACH: Zephaniah Powell

2018 RECORD: 14-1

BIGGEST STRENGTH: Talent and depth have long been the norm for Amite and this year looks to be no different.

BIGGEST NEED: The Warriors’ first-year starters, including QBs John Walker and David Selders, need to adjust to the speed of a varsity game quickly.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: RB/LB-S Corey McKnight, DB Daran Branch, WR Carrill Merridy, OL/DL Hezekiah Neason.

KENTWOOD

HEAD COACH: Jonathan Foster

2018 RECORD: 12-2

BIGGEST STRENGTH: Team speed, quickness and the confidence to compete at a high level against top competition.

BIGGEST NEED: Depth at key positions, one issue that comes with the move of a Class 1A team to 2A where the rosters and enrollments are bigger.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: WR/DB Radarrian Robbins, OL/LB Bryce Cooper, DB/RB Tavien Brown, QB Otis Elzey.

ST. HELENA

HEAD COACH: Johnny Felder

2018 RECORD: 10-3

BIGGEST STRENGTH: Like Amite and Kentwood, the Hawks are blessed with multiple playmakers who can change the complexion of games quickly.

BIGGEST NEED: Consistency for offensive and defensive lines

PLAYERS TO WATCH: QB Deshon Singleton, RB Corey Leblanc, LB Derrien Pea, DB Matthew Claiborne.

PINE

HEAD COACH: Bradley Seal

2018 RECORD: 7-4

BIGGEST STRENGTH: A senior-laden team led by Temples’ 2,253 passing yards has something to prove vs. a tough schedule.

BIGGEST NEED: To stay healthy while taking on a brutal schedule of opponents with size and experience.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: WR Jordan Anderson, QB Logan Temples, DL Jonkez Dillon, LB Drake Westmoreland.

INDEPENDENCE

HEAD COACH: Scott Shaffett

2018 RECORD: 4-8

BIGGEST STRENGTH: Key players returning at the key skill positions should make the offense explosive.

BIGGEST NEED: To stay as injury free as possible because several key players will be two-way starters.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: QB Diaronte Ginn, FB/LB Jaylan Oliver, LB/RB Andre Walker, OL Travis Carter. DB/WB David Beauchamp.

VARNADO

HEAD COACH: Milton Green

2018 RECORD: 2-8

BIGGEST STRENGTH: The Wildcats have a blank slate with an energetic first-year head coach.

BIGGEST NEED: Consistency, along with some success to build on, which will be tough in this district.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: OL/LB Tyrese Sullivan, RB/DB Kim McGowan, OL/LB Christian Fox.

2018 PLAYOFFS

AMITE: Won Class 2A title, 47-20, over Welsh.

INDEPENDENCE: Lost in 2A second round, 28-20, to Vidalia.

KENTWOOD: Won the Class 1A title, 40-21, over Oak Grove.

PINE: Lost in 2A first round, 36-32, to Independence.

ST. HELENA CAREER & COLLEGE: Lost in 2A quarterfinals, 26-21, to Ferriday.

VARNADO: Lost in Class 1A first round, 28-12, to Sicily Island.

THEY SAID IT:

“Our roster is always in the mid-30s range. We need to stay healthy. But you know, it’s OK because I’d rather have 30 pit bulls than 55 Dalmations.”

JONATHAN FOSTER, Kentwood coach

MARQUEE MATCH-UPS

KENTWOOD AT AMITE, Nov. 8: This is what high school football is all about. Both schools won LHSAA titles last year and they are rivals located just a few miles apart.

AMITE AT ST. HELENA, Oct. 18: Again, two teams separated by just a few miles geographically make for a notable rivalry. St. Helena upset Amite two years ago in the quarterfinals on the way to a title-game berth.

ST. HELENA AT KENTWOOD, Nov. 1: Another key matchup as Kentwood runs a final regular-season gauntlet.

SCHEDULES

AMITE

September

6 Lutcher

13 at Loranger

20 at Capitol at Memorial

27 at De La Salle

October

4 South Plaquemines

11 Varnado*

18 at St. Helena*

25 at Independence*

November

1 Pine*

8 Kentwood*

INDEPENDENCE

September

6 at Albany

13 at Central Private

27 Northlake Christian

October

3 St. Thomas Aquinas

11 at Kentwood*

17 at Pine*

25 Amite*

November

1 at Varnado*

8 St. Helena*

KENTWOOD

September

6 South Pike MS

13 at Jewel Sumner

20 East Feliciana

27 Live Oak

October

4 at Dunham

11 Independence*

18 Varnado*

25 at Pine*

November

1 St. Helena*

8 at Amite*

PINE

September

6 Jewel Sumner

13 at Bogalusa

20 at Pearl River

27 at St. Thomas Aquinas

October

4 at Northlake Christian

11 St. Helena College*

17 Independence*

25 Kentwood*

November

1 at Amite*

8 Varnado*

St. HELENA

September

6 Broadmoor

13 at East Feliciana

20 Jewel Sumner

27 at Lafayette Christian

October

4 Linvonia

11 Pine*

18 Amite*

25 Varnado*

November

1 at Kentwood*

8 at Independence*

VARNADO

September

5 at Thrive Academy at Olympia

27 Slaughter Charter

October

4 Bogalusa

11 at Amite*

18 at Kentwood*

25 at St. Helena*

November

1 Independence*

8 at Pine*

LINEUPS

AMITE

OFFENSE

OL Hezekiah Neason, OL Treyeon Brumfield, OL Darious Armond, OL Stanley Williams, RB Corey McKnight, WR Kerry Butler, WR Korrill Mearridy, WR Dorian Batiste, QB John Walker, QB David Selders, PK/P Liam Adamson

DEFENSE

DB Daran Branch, LB Corey McKnight, LB Kevin Bickham, LB Qabari Jackson, James McGowan, DL Shamar Buckley, DL Hezekiah Neason, DL Ashton Wilson.

INDEPENDENCE

OFFENSE

*QB/WR/FB Darionte Ginn 6-5, 220, Jr.; FB Jaylan Oliver, 5-8, 190, Jr.; WB Fred McDowell 5-4, 150, Jr.; FB Peyton Danna 6-0, 220, So.; WB David Beauchamp 6-0, 190, Jr.; WR Markendrick Wallace 6-5, 190, Sr.; WR Rozarion Navarre 6-1, 170, Jr.; *OL Travis Carter 6-0, 340, Sr.; *OL Dallas Lott 6-1, 370, Sr.; *OL Purvis Wright 5-10, 165, Sr.; OL Dylan Veron 6-1, 245, So.

DEFENSE

*LB Andre Walker 5-11, 200, Sr.; LB Jaylan Oliver 5-8, 190, Jr.; LB Alejandro Gutierrez 5-10, 165, So.; DT Coy Baham 6-1, 315, Sr.; DT Chandler Banks 5-11, 220, So.; *DE Darrian Robertson 5-10, 190, Sr.; *DE Peyton Danna 6-0, 210, So.; *DB David Beauchamp 6-0, 190, Jr.; *DB Rozarion Navrre 6-1, 170, Jr.

KENTWOOD

OFFENSE

WR Radarrain Robbins 5-7, 160, Sr.; WR Jeriel Brown 5-5,150, Sr.; WR Jerryon Nichol 6-1, 150, Sr.; QB Otis Elzey; TE Cornelious dyson 6-2, 190 Sr.; OL Elijah Jones 6-1, 275, Jr.; OL Bryce Cooper 6-0, 240, Sr.; OL Dominique Schultz 6-1, 260, Sr.; OL Shacobe Dyson 6-0, 230, So.; OL Cornelious Ginn 6-0, 200, Sr.; QB Otis Elzey 5-11, 165, Jr.; RB Tavien Brown 5-9, 155, Jr.

DEFENSE

DB Radarrain Robbins 5-7, 160, Sr.; DB Keandre Fultz, DB Jerryon Nichol 6-0, 150, Sr.; DB Tavien Brown 5-9, 155, Jr.; LB Cornelious Dyson TE 6-2, 190, Sr.; LB Bryce Cooper 6-0, 240, Sr.; LB Jeriel Brown 5-5, 150, Sr.; LB Jekevis Callihan 6-1, 180, Jr.; DL Elijah Jones 6-1, 275, Jr., DL Rodney James 6-0, 250, Jr.; DL Dejuan Magee 6-0, 170, Sr.

PINE

OFFENSE

QB Logan Temples, FB Jahiem Williams, WB Adrainuen Johnson, WB Drake Westmoreland, C Jyrais Robinson, OG Braden Johnson, OG Bryson Thomas, OT Jakari Hart, OT Jace Kirkpatrick, TE Larry Williams, WR Jordan Anderson.

DEFENSE

DE Jonkez Dillon, DE Larry Williams, DT Tryek Crosby, DT Trystain Bankson, LB Adrulique Dural, LB Ricardo Handy, LB Drake Westmoreland, LB Jahiem WIlliams, CB Jordan Anderson, S Anterrius Walker, CB Demontrea Baham.

ST. HELENA CAREER & COLLEGE

OFFENSE

QB Deshon Singleton 6-3, 185; RB Corey Leblanc 5-9, 200; WR Terry Warner 6-1, 150; WR Jency Riley 6-4, 188; WR Rizziro Torrance 5-10, 165; HB Tyler Wilson 5-10, 195; OL Antwan Courtney 6-3 240; OL Johnathan Turner 5-11, 255; OL Jaylen Franklin 5-11, 260; OL Markeyz Barker 6-0, 275; OL Davione Brumfield 6-2, 275.

DEFENSE

DL Femi Falowo, DL Ce'derick Kent, DL Monterres Williams, DL Gary Denham, LB Derrien Pea, LB Jeleni Earlycutt, DB Matt Claiborne, DB Tim Hill, DB Kerry Overton, DB Javant Dunn.

VARNADO

OFFENSE

QB Kennis Loper, QB Zyquantay Bickham, RB Jaylen Peters, RB Zantonio Peters, RB Korterrius Mingo, RB Kim McGowan, RB Darrius Harry, WR Jaheim Hooks III, WR Trevin Haynes, WR Zantonio Peters, WR McGowan, WR Benny Jarvis, OL

Steven Fox, OL Christian Fox OL Andrew Pernell, OL Donte Pernell at right tackle OL Tyrese Sullivan.

DEFENSE

DB Kim McGowan, DB LaRon Smith, DL Trevin Haynes, DL KeJuan Moore, DL Joseph Yalborough, DL Montana Peters, LB Tyrese Sullivan, LB JaMario Pack, Christian Fox, LB Jaylen Peters.

Email Robin Fambrough at rfambrough@theadvocate.com