2020 Football Preview: Central Louisiana
By Bret McCormick // GeauxPreps.com Contributor
Editor’s note: This outlook is part of a series of region previews. Most regional teams are included. However, some may be missing due to schedule conflicts. We will add other teams as soon as we can.
Central Louisiana is no longer the laughingstock of District 2-5A.
For years, 2-5A could be broken down into three tiers: 1) West Monroe, 2) Ouachita and Ruston, and 3) Central Louisiana.
That changed last year. Not only did Natchitoches Central exit the district (replaced by West Ouachita), leaving just Alexandria Senior High and Pineville as the lone Cenla representatives in 2-5A, but the ASH Trojans broke through for a second-place finish in the district.
Coach Thomas Bachman’s team knocked off Ruston (17-13) and Ouachita (13-7) in back-to-back weeks en route to a 9-1 season, with the only blemish being a 19-7 loss to West Monroe.
The Trojans entered the playoffs as the No. 3 seed in Class 5A but lost on the road to Mandeville, 13-12, in the second round. It was the second straight heartbreaking loss in the second round of the playoffs for ASH. The Trojans missed a last-second 24-yard field goal that would have defeated Mandeville, one year after a double-overtime 61-60 road loss to Ruston.
ASH has two huge holes to fill on the defensive side of the ball with the loss of LSU signee Jacobian Guillory and TCU signee Jadarius “Bud” Clark, two of the top 15 prospects in last year’s class.
But that doesn’t mean Bachman’s team is devoid of talent.
The Trojans will have a strong linebacker corps that returns seniors Jermaine McNeal (6-1, 190) and Rashaad Thompson (6-1, 180). Senior Keontae Gaines will find his way all over the secondary as a safety, nickel corner and outside linebacker.
McNeal made 136 tackles last season while being named to the All-Cenla first team by The Town Talk and 2-5A all-district first team.
One intriguing addition to the Trojans’ defense will be senior linebacker Zurilius Swaizer (5-8, 200), a transfer from Bolton who made 266 tackles over the past three seasons.
Senior quarterback Judd Barton (6-1, 185) returns to anchor the offense after passing for over 2,900 yards and 32 touchdowns the past two seasons. Barton, who holds a Nicholls State offer, threw just four interceptions last season and will be counted on to provide veteran leadership for the Trojans.
Barton has one of the top tight ends in the country at his disposal in Shield Taylor, a 6-foot-4, 235-pounder who is the consensus top 2021 prospect in Cenla and has spent the offseason racking up scholarship offers from programs across the country. Ranked by 247Sports as the No. 16 player in Louisiana and 25th-best tight end in the country, Taylor currently holds nearly 30 offers including Power 5 programs Arkansas, Washington, Stanford, Georgia Tech and Northwestern.
The Trojans have limited experience at the receiver position, but Bachman is hopeful the addition of senior transfer Tray’von Culbert (6-0, 190) will pay dividends. Culbert played two seasons at Tioga, catching 67 passes for 1,194 yards and six TDs in 2017 and 2018.
Senior Graham Vaughn (5-11, 150) and junior Theron Johnson (6-3, 190), who combined for 21 catches and 295 yards last year, are expected to be playmakers out wide for the Trojans, as well.
Seniors Dylan Dauzart (6-3, 300) and Cole Jeansonne (5-8, 280) return to anchor an experienced, strong offensive line.
Despite his pedigree as a former Evangel and Texas Tech receiver and his team’s spread offense, Bachman has been known for relying heavily on the ground game with the Trojans. Former stars Michael Orphey and Richard Chark each rushed for over 1,500 yards during their senior seasons.
Now in his sixth year in Alexandria (fifth as the head coach), Bachman brings back a pair of running backs who will both be looking to surpass the century mark this season. Senior Chris Gray began last season with four straight 100-yard games, while junior Jarvis Newton emerged as the go-to back later in the season, rushing for 188 yards and 4 TDs in the playoff win over West Ouachita. The duo combined to rush for 1,784 yards last year.
While Bachman has continued to raise the ASH Trojans’ profile on the state level, he says they still have work to do to get to where they want to be.
“Our philosophy has always been to put our head down and go to work,” Bachman said. “We focus on the things we can control and try to maximize each day. Through the years, our players and our coaches have embraced the challenge of playing in the state’s highest classification and they are the ones that deserve any credit that comes with that. I believe we’re only scratching the surface of what Alexandria is capable of. As hard as we’ve worked to get where we are now, we know that the real work is in front of us.”
On the other side of the Red River, Darin Moore enters his second season as the head coach of the Pineville Rebels looking to improve upon last year’s 2-8 finish.
The former Louisiana College standout lineman and Dennis Dunn assistant will likely lean on a new starter at quarterback to trigger his spread offense.
Senior Nate Dardar (6-1, 175) was the projected starter at quarterback last season before missing the season with a shoulder injury. He is competing against junior Tylen Burch (6-1, 195), who began last season as the starter.
Senior Darnell Bayonne (6-0, 155), who started the final eight games at QB last year, will return to his natural position of wide receiver, where he caught 23 passes for 296 yards and two TDs in seven games as a sophomore before tearing his ACL.
The Rebels also return another key player from injury in junior running back Bruce Jackson (5-10, 210), who missed all but one game last season with a foot injury.
Jackson’s return should allow the top returning playmaker, senior Andrew Frazier (5-9, 175), to line up both in the backfield and in the slot. Frazier led the Rebels last year with 1,006 combined rushing and receiving yards and 10 touchdowns.
Defensively, the Rebels must replace seven starters, including standout linebackers Kobe Villanueva and Ashton Cannon, who combined for 162 tackles last season.
The secondary should be the strength of the defense led by senior cornerback Chris Holmes (5-8, 150), senior safety Jaylin Brown (6-0, 180) and junior safety Kelby Collins (5-9, 150), but coaches are also extremely high on the junior outside linebacker duo of Kamron Miller (5-10, 185) and Jairus Baines (5-10, 190).
District 3-4A could be the year of the QB in 2020.
Tioga and Leesville return two of the top signal-callers in the region in seniors Blake McGehee and Jacob Mount.
McGehee (6-0, 175) is entering his fourth year as the starter at Tioga, and he has led the Indians to the second round of the playoffs each of the past three seasons. The Ole Miss baseball commitment is coming off a season in which he threw for 2,514 yards and 31 TDs and was named the All-Cenla MVP by The Town Talk.
In his three years as a starter, McGehee has thrown for more than 7,500 yards and 83 touchdowns.
The defending district champion, Tioga enters 2020 as the favorite to win the title once again.
The Indians must find a replacement for Antonio Logan in the backfield, but a trio of talented receivers in seniors Jomarion Lilly (6-3, 200) and Ethan Christman (6-0, 170) and junior Kobe Tilmon are back. Lilly finished last season with 37 catches for 646 yards and nine TDs.
Seniors Dillon Desselle (6-4, 230) and Terrance Sanders (6-1, 230) return to anchor the offensive line, while senior linebacker Jakobe Brock (6-2, 220) and senior safety Josh Ponthier (5-11, 200) along with junior nose tackle Amery Edwards (6-2, 290) are the players to watch on defense.
Mount, meanwhile, returns for his third season as the Wampus Cats’ starter after throwing for more than 2,000 yards in each of the past two seasons.
During his first season at the helm, Mount led Leesville to the 4A semifinals. Last year, though, the Wampus Cats stumbled to a 1-3 record in district play and lost four of their final five games to end the regular season.
If they are to get back to their 2018 ways, the Wampus Cats will need the 5-10, 185-pound Mount to use his experience to cut down on the 17 interceptions he threw last season.
Junior Caleb Gallashaw (5-8, 175) looks to grab the spotlight in the backfield after sharing it with older brother D’ante the past two seasons. The duo combined for 4,176 yards and 43 TDs in 2018 and 2019. While D’ante eclipsed the 1,000-yard barrier both seasons, Caleb will look to surpass that mark this year after rushing for 906 yards and 16 TDs last season.
Senior Khrystian Hoffpauir (26 catches, 433 yards, 5 TDs) is the only returning receiver besides Gallashaw to record a reception last season, so Leesville must find some capable targets for Mount.
A trio of returning seniors are expected to anchor the Leesville defense. Safety Quan Williams (5-11, 190) is the team’s top returning leader in tackles (88) and interceptions (2). Middle linebacker Christian Patterson (5-8, 175) made 64 tackles last year, while outside linebacker Christian Sage (5-11, 195) is back after leading the team with five sacks and 13 tackles for loss.
Bolton and Peabody also return senior quarterbacks this season. Jadarius Welch (5-8, 180) leads a run-heavy Bolton offense after rushing for 1,163 yards and 11 TDs in only seven games last season. Tyriq Miles (6-3, 180) is back behind center for Peabody’s offense, and so is junior running back Arthur Lavalais (5-6, 170), who scored six TDs in a Week 10 win over Leesville and finished with 1,045 rushing yards and 24 TDs while helping Peabody improve from 1-9 to 7-4.
Senior safety Ja’darion Byrd (5-11, 160) is back to anchor the Warhorse defense after making 67 tackles last year, while junior defensive lineman Darius Jones (5-11, 230) will look to get after opposing quarterbacks.
Bolton lost just three seniors off its team from last year, returning 18 starters, but the Bears have a huge hole to fill with the transfer of leading tackler Zurilius Swaizer to ASH.
Marksville came within one point of winning the District 3-3A title last year, falling 35-34 to Caldwell in the final game of the season.
Coach JT Dunbar’s Tigers are a perenial contender for the district championship, but they have some huge holes to fill on offense if they want to get back to that point in 2020.
Gone is Daniel Miller, who rushed for nearly 1,500 yards and scored 25 touchdowns. Gone is Brayden Flores, who had 800 receiving yards and nine TDs. Gone is every other player who caught a pass last season.
Because of that inexperience, Dunbar says the Tigers’ strength is expected to be along the offensive and defensive lines. Senior Brennan Ravare (6-5, 280) and junior Quinlan Snyder (5-9, 240) are projected to be the top two offensive lineman.
Senior John Small (5-10, 165) returns at quarterback after throwing for over 1,200 yards and 10 touchdowns, but the playmakers on offense are unproven.
Dunbar said there has been a lot of competition since workouts restarted after the coronavirus break. He expects junior Triston Dunbar (5-10, 150) to start at tailback, while senior Easton Riddle (5-8, 135) and freshman Amyrion Mingo (5-10, 145) — the younger brother of legendary Marksville QB Qa Mingo — are the projected go-to receivers.
Defensively, a trio of juniors look to lead the way in linebacker Luke Normand (5-9, 170), linebacker Blake Chauffepied (5-10, 180) and defensive back Dunbar. Senior defensive end Triston Jacobs (6-3, 240) also returns after making 59 tackles and 12 tackles for loss last season.
Coach Jay Roark’s Jena Giants also are looking to get back on top in 3-3A after an uncharacteristic 2019.
To do so, however, they have to replace the school’s all-time leading rusher in Trelon Jones.
Senior QB Jordan Jackson (5-11, 155) returns along with a pair of senior offensive linemen in Logan Brown (6-3, 250) and Travarius “Tank” Todd (5-10, 235).
Senior Tajh Jones (5-8, 175) likely will get more carries in the offensive backfield while remaining one of the stalwarts of the Jena defense, which also will be anchored by senior defensive lineman Cade Koch (6-5, 270).
Meanwhile, Grant and Buckeye are looking to rebound from 1-9 seasons last year.
Buckeye lost its top two quarterbacks as Robert Fowler graduated and Dawson Williams transferred to Pineville. It’s unclear yet who will take snaps for the run-heavy Panthers, though it likely will be junior Gaven Jones (5-8, 190), who was the team’s leading rusher last season at fullback. Senior lineman Easton Barker (6-1, 210) is Buckeye’s top returner on defense
Grant welcomes former quarterback Dillon Barrett as the new head coach following the retirement of Freddie Hallman.
The Cougars have many question marks on both sides of the ball after a year in which they snapped a 20-game losing streak, but junior Brady Parker (6-0, 160) returns at quarterback after being the chief playmaker on last year’s team.
Justin Charles is taking over his first high-school football program, but he brings plenty of experience with him to Holy Savior Menard.
Charles spent the past three seasons as the head coach at Louisiana College, where he also spent 12 years as an assistant. He hopes his 15 years in the college game will make for a smooth transition with the Eagles, who went 7-5 last season.
He has a great building block in 5-8, 155-pound senior running back Will Thomson, who returns after being the Eagles’ workhorse in 2019 and earning a spot on the District 3-2A first team.
Senior quarterback Chris Canerday (5-8, 145) is also back along with senior Brady Heard (6-3, 290) to anchor the offensive line. The Eagles have several offensive playmakers in addition to Thomson, including junior receiver Brayden Byers (6-0, 170).
A pair of senior linebackers in Andrew Lemoine (5-10, 205) and Amilio Valenzuela (5-8, 165) return along with senior Kayne Richardson (6-0, 230) and junior Cameron Kinder (5-8, 190) on the defensive line.
As with every team in District 3-2A, the Eagles are chasing the Many Tigers, one of the early favorites to win the 2A championship in 2020 after finishing as the 2A runner-up last year.
If there are two constants in the district, they are Many’s dominance and Avoyelles’ commitment to the running game. The Mustangs rushed for nearly 4,500 yards last season and will lean heavily on sophomore Carlos Bazert (6-0, 220).
Bazert shared backfield duties with senior Donnell Carter last season but looks to thrive even more as the Mustangs’ main back in 2020.
Juniors Terry Augustine and Je’kohbi Kennedy return to anchor a massive offensive line, while juniors Corian Heath and Riley Chenervert will do the same on defense.
Bunkie and Winnfield are two teams in the district that are hoping to improve upon their performance last season.
Bunkie returns a pair of offensive playmakers in seniors Jyrien Washington (5-9, 160) and Lataj’drick Howard (5-11, 175) along with senior linebacker Trevor Guillot (5-9, 195) and junior defensive end Kesmond Armstrong (6-2, 185).
Winnfield, meanwhile, must replace its QB, top two rushers, leading receiver and top six tacklers from last season during new coach Jay Watson’s first year. Senior running back Rett Blake (5-9, 170) is poised to be the top playmaker on an offense that also boasts senior tight end/fullback Micah Griffin (6-0, 200) and senior David Simmons (5-10, 240) on the offensive line.
Junior middle linebacker Travon Nichols (5-9, 200) is the leading return tackler after making 69 stops last season, while Blake and Griffin will also contribute heavily for a linebacker unit that relies on two-way players.
District 3-2A isn’t the only 2A district that boasts teams from Central Louisiana as teams are spread throughout the region from the Texas border to the Mississippi border.
Ferriday and Vidalia play in the northeast Louisiana-based District 2-2A, while Pickering and Rosepine compete in the southwest Louisiana-based District 5-2A.
Coach Stanley Smith has established Ferriday as one of the premier programs in Class 2A over the past three seasons, and the Trojans dominated on their way to the state championship in 2019.
Ferriday returns a pair of all-state selections in senior receiver Elijah White (5-9, 175) and senior defensive lineman Kylyn Wilson (6-0, 200).
White was one of the top receivers in Louisiana last year with 44 receptions for 1,105 yards and 12 TDs. Lewis lived in opposing backfields with 107 tackles and 15 sacks during his junior season.
Joining him on the Ferriday defensive line will be fellow senior Blake Tarver (6-0, 200), who had 83 tackles and eight sacks last season. Senior Kobe Johnson (5-7, 160) will lead a linebacker unit after making 110 tackles last year.
Senior center Vincent Hollins (6-0, 285) and junior Dontavious Henderson (6-4, 330) return to anchor the Ferriday offensive line.
A pair of standout defenders return for a Vidalia team looking to improve on a 3-7 season under new coach Michael Norris.
Junior cornerback Christian Wright (6-0, 175) is back after leading the Vikings with seven interceptions in 2019, while senior defensive lineman Christian Davis (6-2, 220) looks to increase his total of 38 tackles and three sacks from last season.
Offensively, the Vikings must replace a pair of backs in Devin Green and CamRon Randall who combined for almost 1,800 rushing yards.
Wright, the team’s leading receiver from last season, could become the focal point of the offense, which also returns senior quarterback Brett Walsworth (6-3, 190).
Meanwhile, in Vernon Parish, the Rosepine Eagles are hoping for a return to the form that saw them win 10 games in 2017 and 2018.
Junior quarterback Ethan Frey (6-4, 200) may already have his future figured out as an LSU baseball commitment, but he also flashed some major potential on the gridiron last season, passing for more than 1,400 yards. He also returns his top target in junior tight end/receiver Cole Donahue (6-1, 200) and a rising star in sophomore Isiah Stinson (5-10, 150).
Sophomore running back Grant Ducote (5-9, 190) also returns after rushing for more than 1,400 yards and earning first-team all-district.
Senior linebacker/safety Caden Stephens (5-11, 175) returns to lead the defense along with senior middle linebacker David Schlittenhard (5-11, 205) and senior cornerback Braden Nolen (5-8, 150).
Pickering, meanwhile, looks to continue its improvement in 2020 after winning three games last season for the first time since 2016.
When a team returns its leading passer, rusher and receiver from the previous season, it’s a good sign for impending success.
Senior Braden Lebato (5-9, 165) is back under center after combining for almost 1,400 yards passing and rushing along with 17 TDs. Sophomore Marlon Freeney (5-9, 165) was the team’s second-leading rusher behind Lebato, and Lebato’s top target in senior Evan Fernandez (5-8, 160) returns after making 33 catches for 526 yards and four TDs.
Junior linebacker Savion Adams (6-0, 180) will be the driving force on the defense, which also will rely on Fernandez in the secondary and senior Joshua Shackelford (5-10, 240) along the line.
With two of the top small-school athletes in the state, the Montgomery Tigers have high hopes for the 2020 season.
Coming off a season in which they won eight games, the Tigers have an extremely dynamic backfield of senior RB Mikel Auge (5-9, 195) and junior RB/WR/QB J.T. Turner (5-7, 160).
Auge rushed for over 1,600 yards with 18 touchdowns, while Turner scored 15 TDs and combined for almost 1,000 total yards on the season.
Senior Matthew Carter also returns at quarterback after throwing for almost 1,000 yards last season.
The top four tacklers from last year’s team, including standout LB Kyland Nash, graduated, so more will be expected of Auge, Turner and Carter on defense along with junior defensive back James Tolbert and junior linebacker Jeremiah McGee.
The Tigers are continuing to chase Logansport, which beat Montgomery 20-6 in the regular season before knocking the Tigers out in the second round of the playoffs, in their hopes to ascend to the top of the District 3-1A standings.
LaSalle lost a third of its roster to graduation, including QB Kade Hillestad, RB, Zack Dickey, TE Hunter Daigneault and OL/DL Griffen Peppers.
The Tigers are facing a tough rebuild but will rely on senior DE/LB Kayden Engles (6-0, 165) and senior OL/DL Payton Prather (6-2, 215) for leadership.
The Northwood Gators are looking for their first win since 2018 after a winless season last year. Denzel Baines (6-3, 190) and Dominique Bradley (6-0, 160) are back in the backfield, while Caiden Stokes (6-1, 160) is back at QB.
The strength of the line will be senior Slaide Salard (5-9, 250) and junior Coleton Stracener (6-0, 260).
Benny Vault looks to continue his rebuild of the Block Bears.
Vault built his alma mater into a tough, physical team that won almost 60 games over an eight-year span between 2007 and 2014, but the program fell in disrepair after Vault left for Peabody.
Now in his third season back at the helm, the Bears hope to get back in the playoff picture after winning two games last season and going winless in 2018.
Junior Joseph “JR” Curry (5-8, 155) returns at QB to spearhead Vault’s triple-option attack, while senior Dre Curry (5-6, 150) and junior Zavion Green (5-9, 175) are back in the backfield to give the Bears several capable weapons.
Senior tight end Dexter Jefferson (6-5, 220) gives the Bears a big target in the passing game, while junior Murphy Harbor (5-9. 225) anchors the offensive line.
Seniors Gary Stevenson (6-0, 170), Tavaughn Wyckoff (6-2, 170) and Jefferson hold down the defensive line, while junior Tylik Davis (5-5, 125) and Jones are standouts in the secondary.
Running back Tre Griffin returns for his senior season to give Delta Charter one of the top offensive playmakers in District 2-1A. Last season, Griffin ran for 1,246 yards and scored 13 touchdowns.
Leading receiver Kenzeric Hollins also returns for his senior season after piling up 252 receiving yards and five TDs last season.
Defensively, the Storm must replace the standout trio of defensive end Cole Beard, linebacker Chandler Harrison and linebacker Carson Cupit, who combined to compile 366 tackles last season.
Senior linebacker Drew Brown and junior defensive lineman Curtis Bullitts are the two top returners on defense. Brown finished last season with 59 tackles, while Bullitts had 50.
Sicily Island is still looking for its first winning season since reviving the football program in the 2015 season.
The Tigers are coming off a 3-7 season and missed the playoffs last year.
Junior defensive lineman Jimmy Parker Jr. is the team’s top returner on defense, and junior running back Xavier Bates will be leaned on heavily offensively. Other key players are expected to be senior linebacker/tight end John Polk, senior running back/safety Maurice Humphries and senior receiver Devean Kerry.