Last season, Donaldsonville featured some of the top talent in the parish, but their youth and inexperience forced them to learn some tough lessons throughout the course of the season.

Last season, Donaldsonville featured some of the top talent in the parish, but their youth and inexperience forced them to learn some tough lessons throughout the course of the season.

However, now that they’ve endured their share of growing pains, they’re counting on the leadership from their seasoned senior class to lead them to their first winning record since 2010.

Though green, the Tigers saw improvements in their first year under head coach Brian Richardson.

Along with inexperience, they also battled a brutal schedule and costly injuries all season, but they were still able to finish 4-6 and reach the playoffs for the first time in two years.

Many of the players that were thrown into starting roles for the first time in their careers have now matured and carry with them a year of experience under their belts.

During the spring, Coach Richardson raved about his returning senior class.

He said, “The senior leadership has been outstanding. We had a little bit of that last year, but we only had two seniors. Now, we have 13, so it’s resounding. They really make my job a lot easier.”

He went on to talk about the progression his team has made since last summer.

“The experience, there’s nothing like that,” Richardson said. “You can talk all you want, watch all the film you want and do what you want, but there’s nothing like experiencing things on your own and getting hands-on learning.”

The Tigers will lose some key starters from last season. They part ways with an all-district offensive and defensive lineman in Kaleb Phillips and one of their top linebackers in Jontrelle Sims.

But fortunately for Donaldsonville, virtually all other starters return. This includes nine All-District 6-3A players from last season.

They will not have to replace their starting quarterback in 2017. Jaylin Williams returns as the starter under senior.

Williams is the only full-time starting quarterback in Ascension to return in 2017. Last season, he was a second-team All-Parish selection.

He will have many weapons at his disposal.

All-district and All-Parish running back Jemon Pleasant will return, along with a dangerous receiving corps that includes Ladarius Jackson and Jeffery Johnson.

James Gipson began 2016 as a top playmaker at receiver for the Tigers, but he sustained a season-ending knee injury early in the year. A healthy Gipson will return this season to be one of Williams’ primary targets.

Defensively, all-district and All-Parish defensive back Jaquavius Tenner returns, along with heralded linebacker Tahj Brown.

Brown is one of the most sought-after prospects in the parish. He recently committed to Houston.

On the offensive and defensive lines, three big-time players return for Donaldsonville in Kadarrion Jones, D’ondre Fisher and Davon Wright. All three were first or second-team all-district selections in 2016.

Wright just recently committed to Tulane.

Having these three players return is one of the reasons why Coach Richardson thinks his team’s greatest strength will be in the trenches.

“We’ll have the same guys that led us last year, but they have a sense of urgency now because they’re seniors,” Richardson said. “Last year, they did their job, but they were missing some of that urgency. Those linemen, from their grades, to their attendance, to their discipline, they’re going to lead us all year.”

Coach Richardson said that defensive backs Datuan Harris and Savon Landry and OL/DL Willie Picou and Aquindas Rodrigue could have big seasons as first-year starters.

The Tigers will be competing in a new district in 2017. They have parted ways with District 6-3A and joined District 10-3A—a league that features teams closer to them in proximity.

It is heavy in competition, containing the likes of St. James, St. Charles, Haynes Academy and De La Salle.

“We’re embracing the change. It’s going to be competitive either way,” Richardson said. “What we like the most about the move is how convenient it will be for us travel wise. We won’t have to make those long trips to the Baton Rouge area anymore. We’re excited about having St. James in the district. It’s a great rivalry for us.”

With 16 starters returning, Richardson is optimistic about his team’s chances.

He said, “This year’s team looks to clean up some of the small mistakes that cost us in big games last year.”