It looked like Ascension Christian High School wouldn’t have enough players to field a football team a year ago.
The school with an enrollment of 180 students had only nine players on its roster two weeks before the season-opening jamboree.
When it appeared hope was lost, something special happened.
Senior quarterback Kaleb Bledsoe, along with eight other students currently filling the roster, took it upon themselves keep the program alive.
Within days, the players had recruited enough classmates to make playing the 2012 season possible, all while eyeing the future.
“We actually had nine guys there with us during the summer walking around the school and literally begging people day after day until we got enough people,” Bledsoe said. “We proved everyone wrong. We got enough guys to have a football team and we competed.”
The Lions competed. Though Ascension Christian finished 0-9 a year ago, first-year Josh Puryear considered the season a winning effort.
“We competed hard,” Puryear noted. “We’d had a difficult schedule, but our goal was to finish the season and that’s exactly what we did.”
Puryear, who’s served as ACH defensive coordinator three seasons, was hired in April as the school’s head coach. He also continues to call the Lions’ defensive signals.
Pushing the program is the central focus for Puryear, who is installing his new system, literally from the bottom up.
Ascension Christian Elementary, ACH’s feeder school, will provide a boost of incoming freshman that will play immediately, including linebacker Alex Falgoust.
“He’s a real strong kid who’s still growing,” Puryear said of Falgoust and the other freshmen. “They’re going to contribute right away.”
Puryear is looking to establish a rapport among the younger football players in the hopes of reaping the benefits down the road.
“We want these guys rolling by the time they’re juniors and seniors,” Puryear said. “We want kids to want to come to play here. We want to create a tradition here.”
Creating the tradition under the Puryear regime begins Aug. 29 at the Ecole Classique Jamboree, followed by the season-opener Sept. 6 at Lafayette Christian, a first-year varsity team.
For Puryear, the next team on the schedule is essentially the only team on the schedule. And that’s jamboree opponents Ecole Classique and Ridgewood Prep.
“We’d handed out the schedule and blacked out all the games except the jamboree,” Puryear said. “We’re not looking at an entire schedule. We just look to next week.”
Leading the Lions in next week’s jamboree will be Bledsoe, who’s in his third position in three years.
Bledsoe served as a wideout two seasons ago in addition to assuming tailback responsibilities last year.
Junior Drake Willis will serve as the team’s top tailback in the double-wing spread offense.
Junior receiver and all-around playmaker Kagan Carter will also return punts on what’s known at ACH as the ‘Recon’ outfit.
On the other side of the ball, Puryear will employ a 4-2-5 look with Bledsoe and Carter manning the strong and free safety positions, respectively.
It’s a system Puryear prefers, even referencing LSU’s upcoming opponent in TCU’s defensive scheme.
“I love that defense,” Puryear said. “TCU is a good team that runs it. It’s flexible. You can walk a safety or two down in the box. It’s very flexible and it’s a good balance.”
The system allows playmakers like Carter to do what they do best.
“We don’t have a lot of speed on the line,” Carter said. “But you’ll see our secondary find the ball. If it’s up in the air, we’ll go up and get it. It allows our secondary to make a lot happen.”
And while Carter’s pure athleticism allows him to be the player he is, Bledsoe recognized the advantage in playing alongside someone of his caliber.
“He’s the quickest on the team,” Bledsoe said of Carter. “He just burns people.”
Yet knowing who the fastest athlete on the field is could prove to be a point of contention.
“I take him on sprints,” Bledsoe said with a laugh.