The former District 8-2A is now District 9-2A and while the teams are the same, it’s probable safe to say the league’s coaches are hoping to have a few more playoff participants in November.
The league had just two playoff teams - Northlake Christian and Pope John Paul II - last season, but league coaches said that doesn’t mean there’s a lack of competition.
“I think the big thing about our district is it’s very balanced and very well coached,” PJP coach Mark Jeanmard said. “Anything can happen on any night.
“The biggest thing is all our coaches (in the district) are constantly trying to improve themselves.”
One of the teams looking to show improvement is Hammond-based St. Thomas Aquinas, which went 4-6 last season and was voted the league favorite by district coaches.
Sixth-year coach John White said the Falcons had 10 seniors last season and lost five of them by Week 5 because of injuries.
This season, White is banking on a 20-player senior class - and 16 returning starters - in hopes of avoiding a similar scenario.
“We’ve got the largest senior group we’ve ever had, so we’re going to need that leadership to carry the wagon,” White said. “We’ve got the players and the talent to do something this year.”
Tackle Austin Powell, guards Lane Kropog and Lawrence Ingraffia, quarterback Daryl Moore and running backs Breland Dillon and Chase Tassin are among the offensive returnees for the Falcons.
Defensively, the Falcons have a bevy of linebackers, including Wade Smith, Tony Miller, Kameron Eckland, Asa Serpas and Garrett Taylor. Nose tackle Fede Smith and defensive backs Rus Chiasson and Ben Gex also return.
“Every one of those linebackers started at least one game last year,” White said.
Meanwhile, Springfield returns 11 starters from last season’s 3-7 team, including center Wade Wheat, guards John Quave and Travis Tillman, tackle David Hoover and running back D’Marco McKay.
But the Bulldogs will also be breaking in a pair of new starting wideouts in sophomores Chuckie Vickes and Bryant Manchak and quarterback Joseph Kemp.
“I have young guys in our athletic positions,” coach Ryan Serpas said. “We’re going to be very young, but very athletic. They can fly.”
Serpas said the Bulldog linebacking corps of Armstrong, Quave - who moves from defensive end - Keith Hernandez and Shaquille Smith should be the team’s strength on defense.
“They’re very athletic and very physical guys,” Serpas said. “They’re headhunter-type guys, and they can fly around the field.”
Meanwhile, Jeanmard’s Jaguars return 10 starters from last season and must replace OL/DL RJ Barba, Myles Luperello, Calvin Durel and Guy Sergi and QB Clyde Perkins, all of whom graduated.
But Jeanmard said he likes his skill players, including RB Quinn Fiore, TE/WR Sean Bruhn, WR/RB Evan Labatt, FB Kyle Canulette and QB Ryan Noonan.
Defending district champion Northlake Christian lost a pair of top rushers - Derek Williams and Tyler Clark - from last season and will also have a new quarterback in Josh O’Rear.
But RB/FS Mallery Mele, RB/WR/DB Devin Milazzo and LB Will Sigil return.
St. Helena Central looks to improve on a 1-8 mark in Solomon Lee’s second year with the Hawks.
They will look to do so with 14 starters back in the fold, including its entire offensive line in tackles Jameon Williams and Justin Davis, center Kennice Schaffer and guards Jovante Watson and Kenrick Griffin.
QB Robert Trout and WRs Brandon Williams and Johnathan Butler also return for the Hawks.
Williams, Randy Fields and Arthur Cannon are returnees in the secondary for the Hawks.
Elsewhere, Pine aims to build on a 3-7 mark under second-year coach Chris Fussell.
The Raiders return several players on both sides of the ball, including QB Chamychal Brown and RB Jessie Robertson and linebackers Brown, Trent Breland and Tu Nguyen.
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