With the coming of July, we are now less than two months away from the arrival of the high-school football schedule.
Action will officially begin on Aug. 23-24 with the jamboree games. The next week, the regular season will kick off.
Here are the five biggest storylines heading into the 2017 Ascension high-school football season:
Dutchtown heads into their first season under Mistretta
For the first time in 15 years, Dutchtown will head into the season with a new head coach. Benny Saia built the program from scratch and quickly transformed it into a perennial power that produced professionals Eddie Lacy, Eric Reid and Landon Collins, won four district titles and reached the state quarterfinals on three separate occasions. The Griffins will now be led by Guy Mistretta—a coach that has won two state titles at two different schools (Redemptorist and Livonia). Mistretta takes over a Griffin squad that is coming off of a 3-7 campaign that saw them miss the playoffs for the fist time in over a decade. Though they return many starters, they will have to replace all-district and All-Parish standouts like Adam Sparks (Missouri signee), Cameron Crawford and Chuckie Davis.
Donaldsonville competes in a new district
Over the last few years, Donaldsonville has had to compete in a brutal district that forced them to travel to Baton Rouge and beyond. The stacked District 6-3A pinned them against powerful programs like University, Parkview Baptist and West Feliciana. Now, they have broken free. Though they will still play a list of comparable teams, no longer will they have to travel 45 minutes to an hour for road games. They’ll play teams much closer to them—teams like rival St. James and St. Charles. In addition to those two squads, the Tigers will also be facing Haynes Academy and De La Salle in the new-look District 10-3A under second-year head coach Brian Richardson.
St. Amant replaces one of their most successful senior classes
Last year’s team was special for St. Amant. Behind one of the greatest senior classes longtime head coach David Oliver has ever had, the Gators went 9-1 during the regular season, finished as District 5-5A runner-up and reached the state quarterfinals. Now, they must find a way to keep the momentum going, despite parting ways with many of their best players from 2016. In addition to losing a two-year starter at quarterback in Hayden Mallory, they lose almost their entire receiving corps. This includes Briggs Bourgeois—who was not just their leading receiver, but one of the best kickers in the state and a dangerous return man. The defense loses guys like Garett Stephens, Khaj Washington and Patrick Wolfe.
Who will claim parish superiority in Class 5A?
Last season, St. Amant completed a clean sweep of their parish Class 5A counterparts as they blew out both archrival East Ascension (54-6) and Dutchtown (47-7). That’s all the past. Each team lost many of their top players from last season, creating parody that could end with any of the three schools finishing out as the top dog. In addition to both St. Amant and Dutchtown retooling, East Ascension will enter Darnell Lee’s second season with the task of replacing seven players that went on to sign with colleges. This includes offensive tackle Adrian Ealy (Oklahoma signee) and defensive end Justin Harris (Baylor signee).
The parish will see many first-year starters under center in 2017
Last season, St. Amant’s Hayden Mallory was the only seasoned parish quarterback to return. Fast forward to a year later, and Ascension football is right back in the same boat. Most schools will be breaking in a new starter at QB in 2017. Ascension Catholic will lose Javon Yarbrough after he helped guide them to the quarterfinals in 2016. Peyton Bahlinger transitioned from wide receiver to starting quarterback for Ascension Christian last season and had a huge year. Now that he’s gone, the Lions will look to either Zach Diez or Derrick Varnado to take over the reins. East Ascension shuffled quarterbacks last season, with Cameron Schexnaildre, Jason Wakefield and Kennen Dunn all taking snaps. Wakefield got the majority of the snaps at the end of the season and looks to be the Spartans’ top guy in 2017. With Mallory gone at St. Amant, Halen Miller will succeed him. Dutchtown also played multiple QBs last season, but Ben Mays earned most of the snaps. He looks to be the Griffins’ starter this year. The most experienced quarterback to return will be Donaldsonville’s Jaylin Williams. Williams started all but one game last season. He returns to lead a Tiger squad loaded with experience.