SHREVEPORT – The future of Evangel Christian Academy's football powerhouse was brought into question when the schools head coach and principal, Dennis Dunn, was charged with having sex with a teenager. While Dunn waits for his day in court, the Eagles continue preparation for 2001 season and hope to put the controversy behind them.
Quarterbacks coach John Booty, the father of former LSU quarterback Josh Booty and wide receiver Abram, has been promoted to fill the head coaching job. One of his main tasks has been to keep his players' focus on the field rather than on the news events off the field. So far, the Dunn story and headlines questioning the end of the Evangel dynasty have not been distractions during the Eagles' off-season training.
"The coaches will be the first to tell you that our program is not, in any way, in trouble," says senior split end Thomas Bachman. "All we have to do is forget about the outside circumstances and play football."
Although a realignment of districts will bring Ruston into its district, Evangel is once again expected to be a factor in the Class 5A playoffs. The job of running the pass-happy Evangel offense falls to sophomore John David Booty, the third member of the clan who, like his brothers, is expected to draw widespread recruiting attention in the next two years.
While the Evangel offense will set the pace, the Eagles are also going to field a strong defensive team led by senior cornerback Jonathan Wade and senior defensive tackle Chase Pittman.
Wade's strong suit is his speed, which he has displayed on the state championship level in track. There's a good chance Wade will also be used on offense this year, but he is projected to stay on the defensive side of the ball in college.
Several schools are following Wade's progress, and head coach Nick Saban has made it known the Tigers will keeping tabs on him, too.
"He's a real nice guy," said Wade. "I like the fact that he's a defensive coordinator, a head coach with a defensive mentality... that's always good."
Among the other schools Wade mentions as showing an interest are Miami, Southern Miss and Arkansas and Alabama.
Like the Booty family reputation, the Pittman pedigree is highly thought of in high school football circles. Former Evangel lineman Cole Pittman was a burgeoning star with the University of Texas when he lost his life in a traffic accident earlier this year, and now Chase is entering for his final season Evangel as well as the recruiting rush.
LSU has shown a strong interest in Pittman, and he has the Tigers among the top three schools he's considering, along with Texas and Oklahoma.
RUSTON READIES FOR SWITCH
The expression about being going from the frying pan into the fire is very fitting when discussing the district change that Ruston High School has been put through. The Bearcats, perennial powers in Class 5A, are making the jump from the Monroe-base 2-5A to the Shreveport-based 1-5A. Logistically, it's a bit longer of a bus ride into Shreveport, but the style of football being played in 1-5A is a world apart from what Ruston was used to in 2-5A.
The switch also means Ruston will have to face some of its traditional rivals early is the season, meaning the Bearcats should be able to boast that they have one of the state's toughest schedules each year.
"It kind of hurts our feelings that we can't play West Monroe and Neville for district anymore," says Ruston all-state defensive lineman Kyle Williams. "But the good thing is we still play them, it will only be earlier in the year. Plus we add Evangel and a couple of other teams."
The wide-open air attack Evangel features is in stark contrast to the smash-mouth football Ruston was accustomed to playing in the Monroe district, but the contrast of styles has made for some of the better state championship games in recent history.
Williams says he and his Ruston teammates are ready for the new challenge. Despite losing key figures like linebacker Jeremy Hamilton and running back Reggie Maxwell, the Bearcats are stocked with players who have experience in getting deep into the playoffs.
Most of these guys are seniors," Williams says, "and we know this is our last go-round so we have to come out full speed. And it's been the best since I've been here. We've all shown leadership and we all love each other. We all care about this sport and this team."
In addition to gearing up for his senior season, Williams has also been busy with the college recruiting process. LSU has made a strong push to get a commitment from Williams. Who plans to wait a while before making his decision.
"I have talked with Coach Saban and Coach (Pete) Jenkins," said Williams. "They have offered me a scholarship, and I told them that I was going to sit back and let everything out here take care of itself. (I'll) worry about school and football, then go ahead and make a decision."
Williams would not go into detail about the other schools he is considering but did mention scholarship offers from Nebraska and Auburn.
During LSU's spring practice, Williams came down to watch Saban work with the Tigers and came away impressed with what he saw
"He's a nice guy," Williams noted. "I've watched him in practice, and he loves to coach. He's a fireball. I love that! I really like that."