Quick recap to 2011: Our preseason Class 5A No. 1, the Carencro Bears, reached the state finals and were runners-up to the champion West Monroe Rebels (preseason number three).
Carencro was obviously our biggest "hit" and you can argue over multiple big misses, including St. Paul's, Byrd and Destrehan.
St. Paul's, which finished the '11 regular season with an unblemished (10-0) mark, went unranked by us in the preseason. Although the Wolves garnered the No. 1 seed in last year's 5A bracket, the Covington-based school was shocked in the first round of the playoffs by No. 32 Central, 35-28.
There was parity in 5A last year, as St Paul's wasn't the sole high seed to get upset in the first round.
Dutchtown, our preseason No. 4, went into the postseason as the No. 4 seed but was eliminated by No. 29 Ponchatoula, 28-14.
Byrd, like St. Paul's, was unranked in the preseason but went 10-0 on the field and garnered the No. 3 seed in the playoffs. The Yellow Jackets advanced to the quarterfinals before losing in a thriller at Carencro (contest was much closer than the 34-21 final score).
Destrehan, our preseason No. 9, started 2-0 but didn't win again the rest of the way. The Wildcats, by the way, once again grace our preseason top ten, thanks in large part to the healthy return of four-star WR Rickey Jefferson and the arrival of head coach Stephen Robicheaux, who guided Destrehan to back-to-back state titles a few years ago.
Now, onto the rankings...
1. WEST MONROE (13-2 in 2011, state champ) - Key Losses: DE James McFarland (TCU), DE Terrell Lathan (TCU), LB Jacob Tyson (ULM), LB Deano Casola, FB Bubba Reeves. Key Returnees: CB Xavier Woods, QB/WR Michael Mims, LB Dylan Burdeaux, RB Steven Jones, DL Marklyn England, DB Cade Stone
The '11 Rebels relied on a suffocating defense that welcomes the return of first-team all-district defensive tackle Marklyn England (6-1, 275, Jr.), who had four stops in the state finals. The Rebels lose two all-district linebackers in the underrated Casola and Tyson (who also played some DE and RB during his career), but Burdeaux (6-2, 220, Jr.) -- an honorable-mention all-state player -- will return. QB Conner Osborne will graduate, which could mean that Michael Mims will take over at the helm of the team's I-Option offense. Mims took some snaps at quarterback last year and was a first-team all-district athlete (also played WR and DB). Xavier Woods (6-0, 175, Jr.) stood out on both special teams and in the secondary. He has a Houston offer and should pick up several more before all is said and done. Sophomore RB Steven Jones (5-9, 175) was another honorable-mention all-state selection. Cade Stone is an LSU baseball commit.
2. WEST JEFFERSON (7-4, lost in the first round of the playoffs to Byrd) - Key Losses: WR/DB Patrick Bethley, CB Sylvester Grimble. Key Returnees: WR Ronald Lewis, WR Devin Scott, WR Quanties Armand, TE/OL Draper Riley
The Buccaneers of head coach Marcus Scott dashed to a 5-0 start last fall before dropping four of their last six. Brand-new offensive coordinator Brett Bonnaffons has to be excited about his arsenal of weapons at receiver, headlined by three-star Ronald Lewis (offers from Texas A&M, Arizona State, Colorado, Mississippi State, Nebraska, TCU, Tulane and more). Last year, Lewis (pictured below) was forced to play QB part of the time and while he's a playmaker with the ball in his hands, Lewis is best-suited at wideout along with cohorts Scott and Armand. Scott is a speedster with top-shelf athletic ability, while Armand has nice size at 6-foot-4. According to nola.com, Scott is the leading long jumper (best of 23-10) in the New Orleans metro area. First-team all-district DB Parry Nickerson will return for his senior campaign. Nickerson (5-10, 180) is part of the metro area's No. 1 800-meter relay team (best of 1:28.11) along with Lewis and Armond.
3. ST. PAUL'S (10-1, lost in the first round to Central) - Key Losses: FB Dylan Long (McNeese State), K/P Trent Domingue (walk-on at LSU), DB Dane Stubbs (first-team all-state). Key Returnees: S Jay Washington, OLB Ed Duplessis, DL Gustavo Garcia, TE Ryan Malone, WR Marcus Gaines, OL Christian Voelkel
The Wolves haven't lost a regular-season game since week one of the 2009 season (to 4A power Edna Karr). There will be a change at the QB position due to Patrick Duncan's graduation. Duncan completed more than 60% of his passes in 2011 with 15 TDs and four interceptions. Three of last year's top four rushers also will need to be replaced. WR Marcus Gaines, who ranked third on the team with 301 yards rushing - mostly on sweeps - is only a sophomore. Gaines (5-7, 160) was second on the team with 23 receptions, and Malone (6-2, 210, Jr.) was first with 24 grabs. Gaines, who has the No. 2 time in the 100 meters (10.62) in the New Orleans metro area, ranked third on the squad with eight total touchdowns. The Wolves should be tough on defense with the unsung yet highly-talented Washington (6-0, 190, Jr.) patrolling the secondary. Duplessis (6-2, 205, Jr.) has excellent speed and holds a North Texas offer. Garcia led the '11 team in sacks with six.
4. BARBE (9-4, lost in the quarterfinals to West Monroe) - Key Losses: DB Steven Benjamin, DL Brandon Williams, DL Justin Woods, LB Dwayne Prudhomme (District Defensive MVP), OL Connor Fry. Key Returnees: TE Desean Smith, WR Trey Quinn, QB Kennon Fontenot, RB Courtney Galentine
The Buccaneers should score plenty of points this fall. Smith (6-5, 225, Jr.) is a four-star tight end who favors LSU. Quinn (6-1, 190, Soph.) caught an astounding 16 passes for 335 yards and three touchdowns in Barbe's 39-36 loss to a very good Class 4A St. Thomas More team in week five. Fontenot is an undersized (listed at 5-10 last year) dual-threat quarterback who seemed to gain more confidence each week last fall. He was named first-team all-district, as was Galentine (5-8, 160, Jr.), who ran for 1,170 yards and added 481 yards receiving. The Bucs have holes to fill on defense as four first-team all-district performers graduate. When Barbe was at its best last year, the Bucs throttled Acadiana 44-14 on the road (at the '10 state champion's stadium).
5. SCOTLANDVILLE (8-3, lost in the first round to Barbe) - Key Losses: LB Henry Taylor (Grambling State), OL Blaine Poydras (Arizona Western). Key Returnees: DT Tanzel Smart, S Dondre Dobbins, WR Larry Clark, OL/DL La'Allan Clark, RB Dontrail Hilliard
The Hornets were the early surprise team in 5A last year, jumping to a 5-0 start that included a 29-6 road win over '10 Class 3A state champ Parkview Baptist. The preceding year, Scotlandville went 3-7. Despite their rousing success in '11, the Hornets have a new head coach in Eric Randall, and his hiring could prove to be a home run for the north Baton Rouge program. During his playing days, Randall was a star QB at nearby Southern University. His defense will look to tackle Tanzel Smart (offers from Tulane, North Texas and Southern) to close holes and pressure the passer. Smart was named as an All-Combine First-Team defensive lineman by Fox Sports/Scout.com at the U.S. Army Junior Combine in January. Dobbins (6-0, 200, Jr.) is a hard-hitting safety who has averaged 75 tackles each of the past two seasons. Larry Clark is a sure-handed receiver, while younger brother La'Allan (6-1, 250, Soph.) impressed at the Baton Rouge National Underclassmen Combine earlier this year. Hilliard returned the opening kickoff 82 yards to paydirt in Scotlandville's 49-8 thrashing of Northeast in week five.
6. DESTREHAN (2-8, failed to make playoffs) - Key Losses: DE Bryan Singleton (Houston), DT Marrick Charles (Houston commit who signed JUCO with Coffeyville Community in Kansas). Key Returnees: WR Rickey Jefferson, OL Noland Sharpe, LB Rae Juan Marbley, QB Donovan Isom, LB/S Malcolm Darensbourg
Yes, we think the Wildcats will turn it around this fall. When I visited Destrehan last month, I was impressed with the morale and athleticism of the team, not to the mention the addition of Stephen Robicheaux (discussed during the intro, above) at head coach. Jefferson appears to be 100% healthy following the torn ACL he incurred early during the '11 slate. Jefferson (pictured below) is expected to take snaps at both WR and DB this fall, and he could play either side of the ball in college, too. LSU, Florida State and Tennessee are among the programs that have offered Jefferson, who is the nation's 23rd-ranked wideout (and younger brother of former LSU QB Jordan Jefferson). Notre Dame could be the newest school on the block when it comes to Jefferson's recruitment.
Sharpe is an intelligent offensive lineman who is an obvious team leader. The 6-foot-2, 250-pound junior guard reports offers from Mississippi State and Tulane, and is a three-star prospect and the country's 59th-ranked OG. Isom was a part-time starter last year who should explode this fall. He has all the physical attributes at 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, and Isom gives the impression of being a very mature sophomore in the mental aspect, as well. Marbley (6-0, 215) a sophomore LB who looks good "just standing there" (and he can play: averaged 9-to-12 tackles last year). Darensbourg is a spirited, undersized linebacker in the 5-foot-8 to 5-foot-9 and 175-to-190 pound range who most likely projects to the secondary in college.
7. ARCHBISHOP RUMMEL (10-2, lost in the quarterfinals to Byrd) Key Losses: OL Dominick Bilich (UL), WR Cyril Grayson (elite speedster), RB J.J. Brown (ran for 317 yards and two TDs in first round playoff win over Higgins), CB Jordan Frost (first-team all-district), DL Scott Migliore (first-team all-district). Key Returnees: QB Damian Williams, OL Patrick Kliebert
Jay Roth's crew was in the state championship game a few years ago, and the Metairie-based Catholic school would love to return to the Superdome, which is located only a handful of miles from the Raiders' campus. It must seem to opponents like QB Damian Williams has been around forever. Williams, who many evaluators feel is the best overall in-state '13 QB, first became a starter during his frosh season, the same year Rummel reached the state finals and finished runner-up to West Monroe and electric QB Paul Turner (now at LSU). If Williams were three inches taller (than 6-foot and 1/2 inch), he would likely have several offers by now. He's a gritty, hard-nosed competitor who combines those qualities with excellent athleticism and a confident demeanor. Williams played through pain last year, defying the odds when pregame reports pegged him to definitely be sidelined due to injury in certain contests (Williams didn't miss any games, to the best of my knowledge).
What type of weapons does Rummel have to pair Williams with, and will the offensive line gel with multiple new starters? Those are the key questions. Rummel will have first-year starters on defense, too, but the Raiders seem to be very salty on D every single season. In the second round playoff win over Acadiana, the Raiders limited Acadiana's potent veer offense to 42 yards rushing (and 149 yards of total offense, only a week following Acadiana's 75-21 decimation of Zachary in the first round). Acadiana was on fire against Zachary, rolling up 55 first half points and blowing up the statistical box with two 100-yard rushers and an 84-yard rusher. In the Acadiana/Rummel game, QB Williams threw for 204 yards in the second half alone and proved his mettle by completing a trio of third down passes on the march to the game-winning field goal. Kliebert is a raw, 6-foot-8 offensive tackle who is an exceptional student.
8. ACADIANA (8-3, lost in the second round to Archbishop Rummel) - Key Losses: QB Stryker Trahan (Ole Miss baseball signee), LB Darius Ridgeway (first-team all-district), DB Caesar Trahan (first-team all-district), RB Jeff Brown (first-team all-district), OL Barrett Guidry (first-team all-district), DT D'ondre Chanet (second-team all-district), DT Travis Venable (honorable-mention all-district), RB Keith Sonnier (honorable-mention). Key Returnees: LB/DE Claude George, QB/DB DeEdward Cormier, Miles Davis
It's only been two years since Acadiana, behind the running of Micah Eugene (LSU) and Bakari Hollier (Memphis) and blocking of Cade Dawes and Nick Smith (both at McNeese St.), was the 5A state champ. The Rams have a lot of question marks due to a substantial outflow of seniors, but a good QB will be a great start for veteran head coach Ted Davidson (one of the most-respected coaches in the state). Heading into last year, sophomore DeEdward Cormier was reportedly set to take over the starting job as veer option quarterback after QB Ryan Bergeron graduated and joined the college baseball ranks at ULM. When Stryker Trahan, a starting tight end on the '10 state title team, decided to return for his senior year (he was originally planning to sit out his last season on the football field in anticipation of early enrollment at Ole Miss), the Acadiana staff kept Cormier on D and moved Trahan to QB.
This year, Cormier - who is a ballhawk in the secondary - could get the key to run the Rams' fun-to-watch (but not defend) offense. George (6-3, 228, Jr.) is a junior first-team all-district performer who will be a third-year starter this fall. He's one of the best '13 prospects in Louisiana that is still waiting to get his initial scholarship offer. The Rams know they can run the dive behind Davis, who is somewhere in the 6-foot-7 to 6-foot-8 range at 330-or-more pounds. Acadiana was the only program to defeat state runner-up Carencro during the '11 regular season. Acadiana handed the Bears a 32-14 loss in a highly-charged district showdown.
9. HAHNVILLE (5-5, lost to West Monroe in the first round) - Key Losses: DB Jerquinick Sandolph (LSU), DB Tyren Hills (ULM), DB Johnell Celistan (Tulsa). Key Returnees: S/RB Sergio Medina, TE Cody Morales, DB Anthony Mott, DL Jovon Murray, DL Juvon Gales, QB Easton Melancon, WR Kailon Carter, OL Hunter Perrin.
The Tigers do have a ton of talent from the defensive backfield heading to the next level, but LB/S Anthony Mott (5-11, 170, Jr. 4.5) is a quiet leader who should step up his game even more this fall. A first-team all-district selection as a linebacker, Mott finished the season with 39 solo tackles and 12 assists. It's been widely-rumored that first-team all-district RB Earnest Thompson (5-9, 200) won't play this year, which will put more pressure on the shoulders of Melancon and the Tigers' passing game. Sergio Medina, a freakish athlete who - like Mott - has spent his career as a safety/linebacker hybrid, might move to RB if Thompson is absent. At 6-foot-0 and 200 pounds with speed in the 4.45 to 4.55 range, Medina (avg. 12 tackles per game as a junior) would make for an intriguing RB. He drew rave reviews from a member of the Fox Sports/Scout.com Recruiting Team at the U.S. Army Junior Combine in January. '14 DB Floyd Bradford is a prospect to watch, and '14 OL Hunter Perrin is already an experienced starter.
10. CARENCRO (13-2, lost in the finals to West Monroe) Key Losses: DT Jacoby Briscoe (Miami), QB Jalen Nixon (UL), RB Alex Johnson (McNeese State), OL Jordan Walker, DL Adam Clark. WR Shawn Thomas Key Returnees: RB Jaylan Rose, OL Greg Peltier, LB Kye Poole, LB Tim Albert, DB Lamarcus Brooks, DB Dillon Calais
Head coach Brent Indest took the Bears on a magical run to the Superdome in 2011. Indest's variation on the Wing-T takes huge hits with the losses of RB Alex Johnson (state's leading rusher with nearly 3,000 yards) and Nixon (clutch QB on the prep level who probably will move to LB for the New Orleans Bowl Ragin' Cajuns). Jaylan Rose, who primarily served as a wingback during his junior year, was an effective change-up to Johnson all year long, and Rose (5-10, 180) might be ready to come into his own as a RB. During the early weeks of last season, the Bears' defense was frequently mentioned as a weakness after Carencro gave up a lot of points in a 69-48 shootout win over Calvary Baptist. As the season wore on, however, the Bears' defense got better and better and there's a good amount of experience returning among the back seven on defense. Junior LB Kye Poole moves faster than you'd expect at 5-foot-9 and 200 pounds. He set a record with three fumble recoveries in the '11 state championship contest.
ON THE BUBBLE (last year's record indicated):
OTHERS TO WATCH