Division IV Select State Champ Southern Lab putting pieces together for another run at postseason glory

By: William Weathers // GeauxPreps.com Contributor

Now that it’s his turn Southern Lab senior running back Armariyan Asberry would like a similar farewell to his high school career.

Winning a second straight Division IV select state championship would also mark a poignant moment between player and coach where the younger Asberry plays for his father, seventh-year head coach, Darrell Asberry at Southern Lab.

“The older guys that just left, it was their last ride,” Armariyan Asberry said of last year which ended with a Division IV select state championship. “There was a lot of motivation in winning it and they wanted to go out with a bang. I take that very seriously because when it’s my time, I want to go out with a bang.”

Southern Lab began competition last week in the 30-team Robert Graves Metro Baton Rouge 7-on-7 Summer League, displaying some of the pieces that will play key roles in another deep postseason run for the Kittens.

With Armariyan Asberry having to sit out of action because of an injury, he fondly recalled his team’s march to the school’s sixth state championship which, following a season-opening loss, included 12 consecutive victories.

The Kittens (12-1) overcame a two-touchdown deficit in the first quarter with four touchdowns over a seven-minute span for a pulsating 42-35 victory over Riverside Academy.

“It really didn’t feel real,” Armariyan said. “We just kept playing no matter what the circumstances were. For this summer it’s the same goal. We’ve got to do it again.

“We have a lot of doubters because we lost a lot of people, but that’s each year for Southern Lab,” Armariyan said. “They say the same thing each year, but if we play like brothers, we’ll win it again. At the end of the day, we’re all we’ve got.”

Finishing each season in the Caesar’s Superdome has become Southern Lab’s mantra since Darrell Asberry took over the program. The former Southern Lab quarterback has guided the Kittens to 60 victories and a pair of Division IV titles in three seasons.

“That’s the attitude that we’ve developed,” Coach Asberry said. “It’s either the Superdome or a bad year. You can win 11 games and if you don’t make it; it was not a successful year. We’ve been blessed to have some really good athletes and good coaches.”

Armariyan, who has secured scholarship offers from Southern, Grambling State, Alcorn State, Winston-Salem and received interest from UL-Lafayette, plans to take his role as captain seriously.

With a team that lost several seniors, namely Class 1A All-State Marlon Brown athlete and Defensive Player of the Year Dylan Day (Miami), Asberry realizes leadership will come from a variety of sources this season for a team that lacks a large senior class.

“It hurts to lose them,” he said of the 2023 senior class,” he said. “Every year that’s how it is. We’ve got to find a way to keep going. This year’s a smaller senior class. It starts with us (seniors), but it can be from anybody.

“I see some young guys that want to lead, and they want to lead by example,” he said. “I take pride in this. As a captain I want to make sure they’re doing the right thing. I know they’re watching me, so I can’t go out there and do the wrong thing. I have to lead by example.”

Last year’s team was a prime example of a squad able to handle adversity and aspire to greatness.

That began after a season-opening, one-point loss to Class 3A power Madison Prep Academy and included 12 straight victories complete with a rollercoaster ride to the top.

Southern Lab outlasted arch-rival Kentwood 33-31 for the District 6-1A championship and later rallied from a 19-point deficit against Division IV staple Ouachita Christian for a 38-34 victory in the state semifinals. That feat featured three touchdowns in the last 5 minutes, 46 seconds of the game which Day punctuated with an interception return for the game-winning score, a 45-yard touchdown, with 55 seconds to go.

The Kittens were just getting warm.

Riverside jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the opening quarter, only to have Southern Lab reel off 27 unanswered points for a 27-14 halftime lead.

The Rebels countered with 21 unanswered points before Kittens scored on back-to-back fourth-quarter touchdowns on the legs of running back Jerome Harris.

Asberry, the game’s Most Outstanding Player, also scored a pair of touchdowns and added a two-point conversion.

“Riverside was a good team and it’s always a good matchup with Southern Lab,” Armariyan said. “We went up at halftime, but the most important thing was facing adversity and keeping our foot on the gas.

“That’s something we’ve got to keep working on, we can’t get too comfortable,” Armariyan said. “Those last couple of minutes, for us to come together as a team and just play together, trust each other and win the game was amazing.”

This off-season’s provided the opportunity for new players to emerge, and grab hold of a role that could eventually pay off for this year’s team.

Southern Lab, which will have a new defensive coordinator in Lamar Thomas this season, began the process of molding its 2024 unit during the spring which concluded with a game against McComb (Miss.).

Four-times-a-week workouts include time for the team to bond in the weightroom and on the field during conditioning runs. The 7-on-7 league is held each Wednesday throughout this month against included games with University High, Woodlawn, Plaquemine and Livonia this week.

“It’s a grind,” Coach Asberry said. “We have a tough offseason program. It’s either going to want to make you play for Southern Lab or it’s going to make you quit. That’s the mentality. Not just anyone can play for Southern Lab. It’s a mentality that you have to have, and these kids have it.

“We’re fairly young, but I still demand a lot of big things out of this group,” Coach Asberry said. “It’s about a team and not one individual player. That’s the thing these young men have understood. Everybody’s the star, it’s not just one person.”

Junior quarterback Gerry Bottley is the heir apparent to Brown, now at Hinds Community College, and he’s displayed many of the same physical skills that made his predecessor a state champion.

“He’s been very patient, waited his turn,” Coach Asberry said. “He played a lot last year. The key for him is his football IQ is through the roof. He just has to continue to work on the little things. I’m not worried about the QB position.”

Asberry’s son, a 6-foot, 207-pounder, headlines the backfield along with two-way starter, senior Trevoris Norman. There’s also a pair of veteran wide receivers in senior Kennan Butler and junior Anthony Weatherspoon.

“We still have a mixture of guys that I look forward to making some plays for us,” Coach Asberry said.

Southern Lab have an experienced force on the interior of its defense in junior Jemen Smith, a returning first team All-State selection.

Coach Asberry believes the development of the team’s secondary, minus Day, will be of significant importance. The Kittens played their share of freshman a year ago that are now sophomores in important roles.

“It’s hard to repeat,” Coach Asberry said.

Armariyan Asberry understands the role the summer will play in the progress of this year’s team.

“Every rep counts, to 7-on-7, to the camps, to the weight room, to conditioning to the practice field,” he said. “We’re competing at practice. A lot of guys may not have the experience and we have a lot of guys trying to prove themselves.

“To prove that they can do what those guys did in the past,” he said. “I was like that too growing up my first couple of years, I had something to prove. We’re going to get it done.”