Best of belly being served by Jena football's Pancake Platoon

LaMar Gafford
Alexandria Town Talk

JENA – It feels good to loosen your belt and let your stomach out every now and then.

After each win, the Jena offensive linemen celebrate by showing off their midsections after a hard-fought contest.

It is a practice that the aptly named Pancake Platoon takes pride in and along with physical play up front it's a big reason why the Giants enter District 3-3A play at 4-1.

WEEK 5 ROUNDUP:Central Louisiana area high school football roundup for Week 5

TOP GAMES OF WEEK 6:Alexandria area high school football top games for LHSAA Week 6 — and predictions

CENLA FOOTBALL RANKINGS:Alexandria area high school football top 10 rankings entering Week 6

“It’s really fun watching film on people that everybody thinks that should have beat us and seeing us out physical them, I take pride in that,” senior tight end Collin Ashley said.

Ashley is part of a six-man group that includes linemen Ross Cockerham, Noah Parker, Trace Franklin, Jimarius “Juicy” Lee and Hunter Jackson that serves as the front line of a run game that is averaging 205.8 rushing yards.

Jena's Noah Parker (64, right) blocks Tioga's Noah Roberts (40) in a game held Friday, Oct. 1, 2021 at The Reservation.

“They’re just a gritty bunch,” Jena coach Jay Roark said. “They love to do what they and they’ve taken on the attitude and the personality of (offensive line coach (Whitney) McCartney and I love it. It makes us so much better on offense.”

Against North Webster in Week 4, the Giants rushed for 366 yards in a 27-13 win as Brandon Williams, Josh Washington and Tate Turnage each ran for at least 75 yards.

“The physicality is more important than it ever has been this year,” Ashley said. “It’s always important for Jena, but I think we’re taking it a step ahead. We’ve played some pretty hard opponents.”

It is a group that McCartney enjoys molding.

McCartney returned to Jena last season after a three-year stint as coach of Franklin Parish and instantly his presence was felt with the Giants going to the Class 3A quarterfinals for the first time since 2000.

Jena offensive line coach Whitney McCartney (center) instructs his offensive line during practice Tuesday.

“It started last year with Austin Jones, Tank Todd, Dylan Fowler and Bobby Kendricks. Those were guys that really set the tone last year and took pride in everything that we do,” McCartney said. “It’s passed down now to these guys and they’re trying to carry on the legacy.”

Jones is the one responsible for giving the group its nickname when he decided to buy a flag that it can display after wins. The name Hawg Squad was also in consideration, but Pancake Platoon won out.

“Once we all saw that, that was eye candy,” Ashley said. “It’s a persona we take on. It’s a brotherhood. It motivates us a little bit more and makes us part of another group.”

“It’s was one of those things that I said, ‘We’re going to go with it and we’re going to do it as long as we’re doing it the right way,’ ” McCartney said. “Last year, I said, ‘The one way you’re going to get respect is when people start cutting you.’ I told them to take pride in that because those are defensive linemen that don’t want to play head up with you.”

Jena's Noah Parker (64) blocks a defender during practice Tuesday.

Jena’s linemen earned respect from one of the top teams in Louisiana after it lost 28-8 to Neville and LSU  commitment Will Campbell in Week 3.

“I watch that on their YouTube channel and they said they were impressed by how we were physically and everything,” Ashley said.

Last season’s overtime loss in the quarterfinals to Lake Charles College Prep still stings but it still serves as a constant reminder to finish strong.

With district play on the horizon, the Giants are No. 12 in the LHSAA Class 3A power rankings and hope to move up to secure more than one home playoff game.

“We’ve learned from that and learned from our mistakes,” Lee said. “We fixed it, came back and we’ve been working hard ever since.”