First-year Port Allen coach Nick Mitchell ready to gauge his team _lowres

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK -- Port Allen coach Nick Mitchell: 'Central has always been a very good program. They’ve been deep into the playoffs and have a very good coaching staff with some great athletes.'

More than three months after taking over Port Allen’s football program, going through a challenging offseason and preseason, coach Nick Mitchell will get an early assessment of his team.

With an eye toward preparing for a rugged District 6-3A race, the Pelicans host Class 5A Central in the Port Allen/Placid Refining Jamboree at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Otwell Stadium.

“Central has always been a very good program,” Mitchell said. “They’ve been deep into the playoffs and have a very good coaching staff with some great athletes. We have to be able to do the things that are going put us in the necessary situations to win. That’s taking care of the ball, executing the offense and creating some takeaways on defense.”

Central-Port Allen, which will play a pair of 15-minute halves, represent a light jamboree schedule Thursday.

Denham Springs travels to Dutchtown at about 7 p.m., while St. James hosts Donaldsonville at 6:45 p.m.

“Denham Springs will be a challenge for us,” said Dutchtown coach Benny Saia, whose jamboree will consist of two, 12-minute halves. “They’re comparable to some of the teams in our district, so it will give us a chance to see how we measure up.”

CENTRAL-PORT ALLEN: Mitchell, who guided Southern Lab to the Division IV state title game in 2014, is hoping to see his spread offense and 4-2-5 defensive alignment continue to develop after last week’s scrimmage with East Feliciana.

“When you have new systems in place, once you create the mindset of championship football, you want to see the next step in that evolution,” Mitchell said. “The next step for us, even though it’s still early in the year, is can we play a complete game from start to finish? Can we keep those systems in place without having to make major adjustments throughout the game?”

Central is looking to atone for last season’s 4-6 record that resulted in the Wildcats having their stretch of consecutive district championships stopped at seven.

If the Wildcats are to get on track under coach Sid Edwards, they will attempt it with a defense that returns eight starters.

Mitchell sees Central as the type of early-season challenge that will benefit his team going forward with the start of district play in five weeks.

“It’s going to be a great litmus test for us,” Mitchell said. “With the district being as competitive as it is, we’ve got to ready our guys really early. We don’t have a whole bunch of time to waste to get them ready for those types of football games.”

DENHAM SPRINGS-DUTCHTOWN: It was Denham Springs, not Dutchtown, which tasted postseason success a year ago.

The Yellow Jackets broke a 25-year span without a playoff victory with a win over Woodlawn before exiting a round later to eventual state semifinalist Zachary.

Denham Springs return headliners in senior quarterback Torez Kinchen and dynamic sophomore running back Tyree Golmond on offense and LSU commitment Caleb Roddy at defensive end.

“That’s good, we need to see that,” Saia said. “When it’s all said and done, this isn’t going to be on our record. We’ll see some other good backs this year, so it’s good to get a chance to see how we do.”

Saia said he noticed an improvement from his team’s first intrasquad scrimmage to last week’s scrimmage against H.L. Bourgeois, emphasizing they will need to show continued progression against a formidable opponent.

“I’m looking for them to pull together and be a team, figure things out on the field without coaches on the field,” Saia said. “I want to them to play hard. I want to see effort.”