Recent parity, team speed bringing change to 8-3A

Parity shook up District 8-3A in 2012. The question now is whether last year’s changes at the top were temporary.

If co-district champs Loranger and Bogalusa and third-place Jewel Sumner have their way, they will build on their recent success.

Amite and Independence have time-tested traditions that lead you to think of them as the class of any district. But 2012 proved that is not automatic — at least not in 8-3A. Those traditional powers found themselves in the bottom half of the six-team league.

The challenge for the old guard, along with Albany, is to find a way to get back into the top part of the league.

“All my years being here, I’ve always said we had the perfect district,” Bogalusa coach Craig Jones said. “Every year, it looks like we’re putting five teams in the playoffs.”

Just three teams made the postseason in 2012, but two of them won a playoff game. Sumner may have notched the league’s most noteworthy postseason victory with a 28-27 bidistrict upset at No. 8 Bossier.

Sumner coach Zephaniah Powell said the traditional success of Amite and Independence has helped the other teams get better.

“Those two programs are pretty much the gold standard,” he said. “If you don’t have anything to shoot for, then why are you coaching or why are you teaching or why are you playing?

“What we’ve done the last three or four years has been built toward what Amite and Independence have done in the past. We want to be consistently competitive with those teams, along with Loranger, along with Bogalusa, along with Albany.”

Loranger coach Sam Messina echoed Powell’s comments.

“(The district has) always been competitive,” he said. “We’ve been fortunate the last couple of years to pick it up a little bit to where we were. ...

“Independence and Amite are still the benchmarks. One year is not going to deter anything they’ve done in the past and will do in the future.”

Independence coach Keith Carona said he is “excited” about his team, and he feels it has the ability to bounce back in 2013. But Carona agreed that 8-3A has gotten stronger in the past several years.

“Most teams have speed now,” he said. “Sumner has won a state championship in track the last two years. Bogalusa is known for speed. Amite is known for speed. We’re known for speed.

“Everybody also has a solid strength and conditioning program to develop their linemen and the physicality of their linemen. It’s not just football season any more. Everyone is running a program that’s year-round.”

Blane Westmoreland enters his first year at Albany. He also said the league’s speed is a big reason for the parity.

“I was joking with somebody the other day. I told them we’re in the SEC of the 3A districts,” he said. “You’re not going to find this kind of speed in any other district.”

Carona said his team was in position last year to make the playoffs but didn’t finish strong. Amite coach Alden Foster can relate to those struggles amid the simultaneous improvement of the league’s other squads.

“Last year, we were so young, we were learning how to win,” he said. “I think (the district) has been solid for the last few years — not just last year.”

Jones praised the traditions of Amite and Independence, but he hoped his squad could build off last year’s triumphs.

“I wouldn’t say (Bogalusa and Loranger) took (the co-championship) from them,” Jones said. “But it’s going to be a great opportunity to see what happens being that everybody had some success and won some games.”

Returning linemen and linebackers include Amite’s Devon Johnson and Brad Porter; Bogalusa’s Jalen Graves; Independence’s Jerquavis McGee; Jewel Sumner’s Matt Shaw and Kenny Stewart; and Loranger’s Dylan Vaughn.

Skill players and defensive backs to watch include Albany’s Tanner House; Amite’s Kenderrick Vining, Kenner Harrell and DJ Downing; Bogalusa’s Darrin Holmes; Independence’s Shannon Cage, Darrin Holmes, Davon Steptoe and Navontae Brown; Jewel Sumner’s Rhett Travis, Freddie Moreno and Bryant James; and Loranger’s Jake Ingraffia and Deandre Bickham.