Fearless football forecast: Who’s hot, who’s ... eh!
Most often, preseason football scrimmages can be deceiving and hardly a gauge for what to expect from a team when the pads start popping for real.
But to the trained eye, they can reveal some hidden strengths and weaknesses and serve as an aid to forecast how the season will unfold.
With that in mind, the Clarion Herald makes its fearless (and some might say mindless) order of things to come in districts in which schools in the Archdiocese of New Orleans reside:
Enter the Catholic League, or District 9-5A:
1. Archbishop Rummel – The reigning champion for the past two years has several things going that its Westbank rival Archbishop Shaw enjoyed in the 1980s and most of the next decade: a winning atmosphere that perpetuates itself.
The Raiders also have the best quarterback in the district in junior Chase Fourcade, and a defense that while somewhat banged up to start the season still will be stifling.
The early schedule is a challenge: nearby road games against East St. John and Hahnville and then coming home to face 5A champion Acadiana, before venturing off to Baton Rouge for Catholic High and ending up in Dutchtown. That grind should serve to prepare the Raiders for Catholic League play.
2. Jesuit – When Coach Wayde Keiser decided to retire a month ago, he left a full cupboard of talent for his staff and new head coach Mark Songy to continue to shape.
The Blue Jays also have a talented QB in senior Trey Laforge, who is in the mold of record-setting graduate Tanner Lee. Throw in a trio of experienced ball carriers in Charles Jackson, Malcolm Ben and Chris Mills, and the district’s No. 1 tight end, Foster Moreau, and you have the makings of a title contender.
Both offensive and defensive lines are also quite capable.
3. Brother Martin – This will be a pivotal year for the Crusaders. With the maturation of their once-young players, they should be more competitive this year. It may not show at first by having to play five of their six pre-district games on the road against difficult competition.
Martin will certainly have a potent running game (it always has) behind the legs of senior Jared West and junior-eligible Bruce Jordan-Swilling, who will see much playing time at linebacker. A recently adopted son of former Saints linebacker Pat Swilling, Bruce will share the ’backer zone with veteran Jonathan Parker.
The ’Saders will have one of the district’s larger lines as well. The question is, how well will the offense move the ball by air?
4. St. Augustine – Gone is the bevy of D-1 talent. Returning is a group of youngsters who are pups compared to the talent that the Purple Knights enjoyed last year.
It showed in the scrimmage against John Ehret ... lack of an explosive ground game and numerous penalties being the most glaring standouts.
They do have an all-world wide receiver in Stanley Morgan and a passing quarterback who may evolve into a special player in Justice McCoy.
What is obvious is that the overall defensive unit lacks size but not necessarily speed.
5. Archbishop Shaw – The thing that is keeping the Eagles competitive is the coaching staff’s ability to get the most out of the least overall talent.
Head man Scott Bairnsfather and his staff have put together a first unit that should be very productive and could win three-to-five pre-district games. But the Eagles’ reserve corps is thin.
They do have the district’s No. 1 running back in Trey Ragas and a capable leader in QB Matt Keller.
6. Holy Cross – Incoming head coach Eric Rebaudo is a defense-minded soul, and his Tigers will reflect that throughout his tenure.
Although the offense showed it needed work in a scrimmage against Ponchatoula, that unit has three high-quality athletes in wideout Michael Chigbu, running back Tre Turner and placekicker Reed Gravolet.
North of the lake
In St. Tammany Parish where St. Paul’s resides, expect District 6-5A to once again be highly competitive. And the Wolves will be at or near the top of the final standings.
In a full district of eight teams, Coach Ken Sears can schedule just three non-district games, and two of those opponents are 2013 Class 4A runner-up Karr and greatly improved Jesuit.
Veteran quarterback Ryan O’Krepki leads an offense rich in running backs and a large blocking line. And the defense will be of the usual high quality.
Coach Hank Tierney’s Ponchatoula squad looks like the team to beat.
How they’ll finish: 1. Ponchatoula, 2. St. Paul’s, 3. Covington, 4. Mandeville, 5. Fontainebleau, 6. Slidell, 7. Northshore, 8. Hammond.
Last season was Archbishop Hannan’s year to win a district championship and fly into the Dome to play for the Division IV championship. Unfortunately, the Hawks weren’t equipped to face the likes of Calvary Baptist and gave up 62 points.
That outcome notwithstanding, this school offers the program of the future in an area that is growing exponentially, and the talent level will only improve with its growth.
But not this season. Coach Pat Lambert lost a great deal of irreplaceable talent. The Hawks’ success in a winnable district will depend on how quickly the youth responds to the challenge.
At Pope John Paul II, where Mark Jeanmard did a remarkable job in his dual role of athletic director and head football coach, a rebuilding process is also ongoing.
The Jaguars have a new head coach in Daryl Thomas, who will have plenty of budding players to work with. This will enable him to build the program as he wishes with mostly fresh and eager faces under his tutelage.
Coming off an 11-1 season, Northlake Christian is the class of this district. But if the Wolverines have any competition, it will come from Pine, a one-time doormat, which will challenge for the title in this mini district.
How they’ll finish: 1. Northlake Christian, 2. Pine, 3. Archbishop Hannan, 4. Pope John Paul II.
This mixture of Catholic, private, public and charter schools should be the poster district of how fouled up the LHSAA is.
John Curtis has a team built to win the district every year and will again. Then the River Ridge private school will jump up to Class 5A (or Division I) for the playoffs under the auspices of the LHSAA’s quirky rule that allows schools to play up in the postseason, making the second-place team the ad-hoc district champion.
And which district member will that be? Why, St. Charles Catholic, that’s who.
By virtue of the LHSAA’s folly, Comets’ head coach and AD Frank Monica will get his wish not to have to play against John Curtis in the postseason to have a shot at the Division III championship. Coach Monica gets the most out of his players every year and hasn’t experienced a mediocre season since taking over the Comets’ program 15 years ago.
Running back Erron Lewis should be one of the best in the state, and the Comets have a fine QB in Austin Weber. And although the defense is somewhat rebuilding, Comet fans should have an enjoyable season.
Coach Ryan Manale has 70 players in uniform, the most De La Salle has had post-Katrina.
In two years, Manale has molded the Cavaliers into a legitimate playoff contender (although all non-public schools make division playoffs these days). And the program should only continue to get better under his guidance.
Two players to watch are quarterback Victor Gaines and linebacker Cole Lewis.
McMain has a solid running back in Malik Arnold, but lost All-State QB Omari Jones.
Lusher’s football program is a few years from challenging.
How they’ll finish: 1A. John Curtis, 1B. St. Charles Catholic, 3. De La Salle, 4. McMain, 5. Lusher.