Northwestern State and the parish’s three high schools---Natchitoches Central, Lakeview and St. Mary all kicked off practice this week as each team looks to begin their journey to the playoffs.
NSU finished last season strongly after winning three of their last four games to break even at 6-6 in head coach Jay Thomas’ first year.
With a successful first season in the books, Thomas is hopeful that his team can return to light up the Southland Conference and make it back to the Division I Football Championship Subdivision playoffs for the first time since 2004.
Not far from NSU, the Chiefs are looking return to the Louisiana High School Athletic Association (LHSAA) playoffs for the fifth straight year---a feat that has not been achieved since 1993-1999.
However, there is a sense of renewed optimism that this year’s NCHS team could be a bit better than in previous years thanks to a potentially explosive offense that has a year of experience under its belt.
Junior quarterback Austin Guy struggled with his accuracy last season, but should be better as seniors Deshon Ficklin, Reginald Turner and Correion Mosby are expected to help out in the aerial assault.
Defensively, the Chiefs lost a few players, but Helms says that there is still some experience on that side.
At St. Mary’s, a new era begins as coach Lee Doty steps into the Tigers’ den, attempting to help the school improve from its first appearance in the LHSAA quarterfinals since 1986.
“So far, it’s going really good,” Doty said after Aug. 7’s morning practice. “We had some heavy legs, but we battled through it and finished strong. We are where I thought we needed to be scheme wise.”
Typically a small, scrappy bunch, the Tigers once again will be a factor in District 3-1A, with them and Block expected to tussle for the district title.
Senior running back/linebacker Hunter Bedgood is arguably the heart and soul of St. Mary’s and his ironman mentality will be expected to carry them far once they head into the LHSAA Division IV playoffs.
“Our kids have sold out and bought in, they really getting after it,” Doty said. “Our effort is outstanding. We have to polish some techniques. I am putting a huge emphasis on special teams.”
There is also a changing of the guard in Campti, as Freddie Hallman returns to Natchitoches Parish to take over a promising Lakeview program.
“Practice has been great this week,” Hallman said. “We had the opportunity to get some conditioning in. Although I’m disappointed in the numbers, morale has been better than I expected.”
Even though the Gators have not made the LHSAA playoffs since 2003, last season they were close and competitive with players such as senior running back Montez Pikes providing stability on offense.
Lakeview should only get better with an accomplished Hallman---who has won 150 games in his career---running the show. Yet, it will not be easy right off the bat as evidenced by the low turnout numbers before the school year begins.
“There is talent here, but there’s only been 16-17 that have come consistently,” Hallman said. “Our top 11 players that have been here are decent, but if anything happens to any of them, it would be bad, because we have to have that depth.”
All four teams open up their seasons in Turpin Stadium, beginning with NSU’s “White Out” game Aug. 28 against Missouri State.