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‘Next year’ finally arrives for Bulldogs after sub-par 2017

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  • By:
  • George Becnel
  • Posted:
  • August 24, 2018 - 2:32pm

File photoDwain Jenkins and his Lutcher squad are eager for the 2018 season to begin after a sub-par year for the Bulldogs in 2017.

If ever there was team that was looking forward to “next season,” it must be the 2018 Lutcher Bulldogs.

Lutcher was coming off back-to-back state championships going into 2017. Playing with a young and rebuild team while making the move from Class 3A to Class 4A, the Bulldogs had a not-so-Lutcher like 4-7 season.

“When you look back at it, 2009 was the first year we played in 4A and that was a team that was coming off a state championship and had everybody coming back and was really good,” explained third-year Lutcher coach Dwain Jenkins. “We saw what the difference was – not until late in the season – and you saw the difference of what the top of Class 4A looks like compared to what 3A looks like.

“We had two of the best teams here and they weren’t able to get it done. But every other year in 4A, we maybe ran into that early-on. That’s been one of the things we’ve tried to build up from. We know that is a challenge and that is something we will be faced with. We will be one of the smallest 4A schools every time we are in 4A, so we must find a way to overcome that hurdle and close that cap, especially on the line of scrimmage. That’s where it seems to be the biggest difference.”

High school programs, especially public schools, go through cycles. Lutcher lost the core of its two-time championship teams and the replacements were inexperienced and young while also making the move up in classification.

“One of the things that kind of caused all those young guys to have to play last year was just the success we had in 2015 and 2016,” said Jenkins. “When you go back and look at that group of guys – especially those who played on the defensive side of the ball – a lot of those guys started early in their careers when you talk about Ben St. Pierre, Sully Laiche, Tyler Williams, Ethan Bland, Dylan Recotta, Thaddeus Wattis and Reshaun Preston, those are guys that were three-year starters that played on state championship teams and started as sophomores and some even started as freshmen.”

Those players were so dominant, it may have dissuaded others from even going out for the program, thus causing a gap in classes.

“What you saw was a void in those next two classes that were coming up. There was just a void of players. A lot of guys may have come out for the program early-on and saw they were behind a guy that was super young and decided not to play anymore. The numbers in those classes were down and when it came time for those players to be seniors and maybe be an 18-year-old that’s ready to step in and play varsity football for the first time, those guys weren’t there, and you had to turn to the 15-year-old sophomores. We think that was some of it,” Jenkins explained.

Those young sophomores are now seasoned veterans but what remains is the fact the move in classifications makes Lutcher one of the smaller schools in Class 4A. Lutcher boasts a roster of approximately 70 players while the top of Class 4A has numbers approaching 100. That discrepancy takes a toll on the smaller schools in terms of depth.
“I think we still have some deficiencies we have to be able to overcome. Just when you start talking again with the issue of depth and playing at a 4A and 5A school level that we will play most of our games against this year. We just don’t have the numbers of guys up front that other teams we play against can choose from. Not to say that our front guys aren’t as good as anybody we play, but when you get an injury here or there, or depth-wise, you start running into problems and maybe having to play guys that aren’t quite ready on Friday nights yet,” said Jenkins.

While linemen issues have been a concern for the Bulldogs in terms of depth, Lutcher has never lacked quality players. Among those returning for the LHS this year are quarterback Kolby Bourgeois, running back Rondell Mealey and receiver Jacoby Williams.

Bourgeois, a senior, was underappreciated a year ago by Bulldog observers, according to Jenkins.

“I think it was because of the record,” the Lutcher coach said. “You are talking of a kid who threw for almost 1,800 yards, had 22 touchdown passes and threw six interceptions. He threw three in the fourth quarter in the first game of the season. That means the next three weeks, he threw three interceptions in over 200 attempts. It doesn’t matter what level you play at, that’s pretty impressive and pretty good decision making”

“He’s put on more weight,” Jenkins continued. “He played at 170 pounds last year. Now he’s 190 pounds so he’s a much more impressive athlete. For us to have success, he will have to continue to make great decisions on the football field because we can’t afford to turn the football over and we will have to extend some drives.”

Mealey is making the move from receiver to running back.

“Basically, because he was one of our best guys and kind of played a little out of position at receiver. Now he’s going to his more natural position of running back,” said Jenkins.

Perhaps the most gifted player, Williams has been a three-year starter. He has been out of action since the start of the summer because of an injury suffered early in 7-on-7 play. He is expected back at the start of the regular season.

“We think he’s the next guy in that long line of receivers that we’ve had here,” Jenkins said of Williams. “Hopefully, he will be back, and it will give us the boost we need offensively. It gives us another playmaker to go along with Kolby and Rondell Mealey.”

Others in the mix at receiver include Javian Jacques, Copeland Williams, Cam Amato, Adrian Butler, and Tahmaz Jones.

The Bulldogs return three offensive linemen that played in every game a year ago. Chief among them is senior four-year starter Josh Taylor.

“The only five games he didn’t start on the offensive line in his career were probably five games in his sophomore year with the loss of some defensive linemen, we tried to move Josh over to defensive line. He was just a better player on the offensive line and moved him back,” Jenkins said.

Senior Alex Beier is going into his third year as a starter. He and Taylor play on the right side of the offensive line.

Drake Lafleur, who started last year at guard, has moved to center.

Numerous players have been in the mix for the two other starting spots along the offensive line.

“We have three guys basically competing for the other two spots, Dequindois Alexander, Colten Poche and Jacoi Kelson,” said Jenkins.

Donald Fleming, a freshman, also is likely to see action on Friday nights.

“He’s going to be a great football player for us. You hope it would be after a jayvee season and not Week 1 his freshman year,” said Jenkins.

The core of this year’s Lutcher’s defense consists of juniors with senior Zane McCrary a holdover from the state championship squads.

“You can’t start talking about our defense without talking about Zane McCrary,” Jenkins said. “He’s the guy who started as a sophomore who was in the lineup with all of those guys in 2016. He started at safety. Last year he made the shift to get more in the box because he’s one of our more aggressive, better-tackling players on our football team. He moved up and played more of a strong safety/nickel back role last year.

“He’s learning to be a better leader. He’s always been a kid that does everything right. He’s always been a kid 100 percent and runs every drill hard. He does everything you want a football player to do. It’s time for him to take that next step and be more of a vocal leader. A guy that not only does things the right way but brings other guys with him and make him do it the right way, too.”

The secondary includes Rashaud Long, Tre Stewart, Rhett Whitney and Ivan Clark. The four all started games a year ago as sophomores.

“None of them were probably physically or mentally ready to play but all of them were pressed to play because they were the best we had,” said Jenkins.

The senior in the group is Da’Jon Brown.

“He’s undersized at 5-6. He’s probably one of the best athletes on our football team. He’s probably our fastest guy and probably has the highest vertical jump. He gives us the opportunity to make plays on the football. That’s something Da’Jon has to do is create turnovers,” said Jenkins, who still shakes his head at the thought of his defense not forcing a turnover until Week 5 last season.

Returnees Chris Burkhalter logged a lot of time at linebacker a year ago.

“Chris is another member of that junior group,” Jenkins pointed out. “Chris is really poised to have a good season. He had a great offseason and really developed his body and looks the part. He just has to continue to learn how to play the position and not be a guy that just runs around and makes a flash play every now and then. We need him to be a consistent guy who will come up and make 10 or 12 tackles a night.”

Seth LeBlanc is another returnee who saw a lot of playing time in 2017.

“Seth LeBlanc is a guy who was pushed into starting duty last year when Gabe Bland, who should be a senior starter for us at linebacker went out in Week 3 or Week 4 last year with concussions and is not being allowed to play anymore. Seth changed his number from 40 to 38 to play in honor of his friend, Gabe Bland, who is not going to be able to play his senior season.,” Jenkins explained.

The move is just another example of the type of person LeBlanc has been despite some trying circumstances, according to Jenkins.

“He’s an undersized kid but is a kid that plays with everything he has. He’s a cancer survivor when he was in middle school. He had part of his clavicle removed so he plays with one shoulder, but he plays as hard as he can play for as long as he can play. You just really root for a kid to have all the success he has because Seth is a guy who can be a role model and example for kids all over the country who deal with cancer and that you can still have a normal childhood and still have the high school experience and still play high school football,” Jenkins said.

Like on offense, the defensive line has depth issues.

“We weren’t very deep there last year,” Jenkins said.” We lose Keiron Goudia, who was a two-year starter and is a walk-on at Southeastern. We lose Rowdy Scott, who was an undersized defensive tackle, but he was one of the strongest kids on our teams. We lose Kameron Malarcher.

Playing key roles this year will be the Thomas brothers – 6-foot, 275-pound Jamel and 6-foot-1, 240-pound Jamal.

“They are the biggest two guys we have to put out there as far as being big and athletic enough to handle the position. We need them to continue to work and build up their endurance. You would love to have guys to rotate in and keep guys fresh, but we just don’t have those bodies to be able to rotate them,” said Jenkins.

Another defensive lineman is sophomore Bryce Scott.

“Bryce Scott is trying to find his way. He’s one or our bigger kids and he played offensive line last year,” Jenkins said.

Freshmen likely to see action along the defensive line include 220-pound Carter Poche and Ty Cooper.

Amato will punt for the Bulldogs while freshman Noah Detillier will handle the kicking chores.

Lutcher’s pre-district schedule remains formidable as ever. Along with rival St. James and Marksville, the Bulldogs ago face the Ascension Parish trio of East Ascension, St. Amant and Dutchtown.

After back-to-back games with St. Amant and Dutchtown, the Bulldogs open District play against traditional power Parkview Baptist. Lutcher closes the season with Plaquemine.

“There is no rest for the weary with our schedule. We moved into that 4A Baton Rouge district and Plaquemine has been the team in the district that has been at the top of it,” Jenkins said.

Regardless of classification, the outlook remains high in Bulldog Nation.

“This community believes in football and believes football is important. Regardless of if you are 3A or 4A, people want to see deep runs in the playoffs. They want to be playing Thanksgiving Week. It’s great you have those expectations and you wouldn’t want be places that didn’t have those expectations,” Jenkins said.

George Becnel | .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

George Becnel is an award-winning journalist and has been a sports writer and editor for more than 30 years.