Inexperienced Griffins relying on program’s tradition

Peter Silas Pasqua
Dutchtown’s Effrem Reed turns for his junior season after rushing for 350 yards to earn all-district honors at running back.

GEISMAR – Dutchtown has experienced a lot of success in its short existence and even though the Griffins will be in a rebuilding mode this year, the tradition built in a short time frame is expected to carry over to a young and inexperienced team with just 14 seniors.

“You have success because you have players,” Dutchtown head coach Benny Saia said. “Wouldn’t you say that with any team. They were special. This year we have the fewest amount of seniors since the second year we were opened so it is a rebuilding year any way you look it. Are we going to write this year off? No, we are going to go out and try to win every football game. We are going to be young. We are doing everything we can to be good but it is new kids and it is like that at any high school. They graduate and move on and you have to fill their spots.”

Dutchtown is coming off an 8-3 campaign that saw them tie for second in tough District 5-5A with a 3-2 mark. The Griffins advanced to the regional playoffs before being ousted by Barbe a year removed from a quarterfinal run. However, Alabama signee Eddie Lacy and Texas Southern signee Kelvin, who provided most of the team’s fireworks the past three year and are the all-time leading rushers in the history of the program, are gone.

“Surely that will effect anybody but we will try to fill that hole,” Saia said. “I feel like the success that we have had has earned us some respect around the state.  Hopefully, we can keep that going. These kids have some ownership in the tradition that has been built here and they will fight to keep it that way. It is time for these guys to grow up.

“I think our speed is probably as good as it has ever been. Our skill kids are our strength so that is something we are going to have to try and take advantage of. Youth is something we have to overcome for sure. I hope it doesn’t become a weakness. Our schedule is tough so I don’t know how it is going to work out but it is going to be a fun year.”

OFFENSE – Dutchtown will continue to run out of the Wing T this season but expect the Griffins to air it out a little more this year as only two starters return.

“Our offense is versatile,” Saia said. “We are not going to change it but some of the plays that we run will be different. We are not going to bang a tailback in between the tackles 35 times a game like we did last year. It will be more perimeter oriented. We still want to be primarily a running football team but I don’t think we can be as heavy into the run as the last two years. The personality doesn’t allow us to do that. I think this sophomore class is really good but is it fair to make them play varsity football? We don’t have a choice. How good they get will determine how good we are.”

Junior Leon Blouin will take over at quarterback for the Griffins this season after seeing some action a year ago. Sophomore Evan Maiochhi comes in as an inexperienced backup.

“Leon is very athletic,” Saia  said. “How he responds when the lights come on, there are 15,000 people in the stadium and big nasty guys chasing him, we don’t know. We have to figure those things out. We get our feet wet the first game of the year and it doesn’t get any easier after that.”

Junior running back Effrem Reed returns in the backfield after earning second-team all-district honors following a campaign that saw him gain 350 yards on 40 carries to go with 240 yards on 13 catches. Reed will be joined in the backfield by junior Thaddeus Godfrey and sophomore Troy Lewis.

“Effrem is the guy we have to hang out hat on,” Saia said. “We have to try and do some things to get him the ball in the open and let him make some plays where he can use his speed. Everybody else is new so they have to grow up.  We don’t have an identity, yet. Last year, I knew we were going to pound you until we couldn’t pound you anymore.”

The Griffins return just one starter on the offensive line, junior Colby Crysel at tackle. Senior Demarcus Gray is expected to fill the other tackle spot while sophomore’s Zach Hill and Jared Spriggs are at guard and junior Brandon Castjohn will be the center. Junior Eric Babin will also contribute.

“I don’t know how that unit is going to gel but you know as well as I do, you win games on the offensive and defensive lines,” Saia said. “They have the potential to be good but I don’t think they are going to be the type of line that is going to knock you off the ball four yards every time we snap it. This is going to be the smallest line we have had maybe ever and they have very little experience so that is a concern. We have to be smart as coaches and do the things that give us a chance to let them be successful.”

Junior tight end Max Rought returns with some game experience and will be joined by senior Jamon Stanton and sophomore Davon Ester at wide receiver in the passing game. Returning all-state safety Eric Reid will also line up at wideout to give the Griffins another weapon.

DEFENSE – Dutchtown will again run out of a 4-3 defense but despite returning everyone in the secondary do not have a single returning starter on the front seven.

“It is hard to tell who is going to rise up,” Saia said. “We had a good summer and the kids worked hard so hopefully it pays off. Turnovers are big in any scheme because they decide game.”

LSU commitment Reid returns for his senior season to a very experienced secondary after leading the Griffins with four interceptions, while adding 53 tackles including three for losses to earn first-team all-district honors at free safety. Senior Marcus Godfrey earned second-team all-district honors after hauling in three interceptions and will be joined by junior Jonathan Darville, another returning starter, at corner while sophomore Shaquille Lewis also saw plenty of playing time a year ago.

“Everybody is back and you have two guys that are going to sign scholarships,” Saia said. “We got some guys back there who can play and that is where our experience is at, there is no doubt.”

The linebacking corps is expected to see senior Caleb Cognevich, juniors Nick Shipman and David Lentz and sophomore Landon Collins take over the reigns.

“There are a lot of guys who have to grow up and grow into their job and they have to do it quickly,” Saia said.

On the front, the Griffins are expecting senior Devin Bercegeay and sophomore Darrien Batiste to man the end positions while junior Devante Jones and sophomore Aaron Davis are tackles. Senior John Williams probably has the most experience on the front while senior Staff Ulrich will also fit into the mix.

“We are going to put some people in those spots and expect them to play,” Saia said. “They are just inexperienced but we are counting on them.”

SPECIAL TEAMS – Dutcthtown returns first-team all-district punter senior Grant Auzene who kicked for a 38-yard average on 28 punts. Auzene also connected on 39 of 41 extra points and six field goals. Senior Connor Fryoux also has experience punting.

Reed and Darville both return as return specialists for the Griffins.

SCHEDULE – Dutchtown  revamped its non-district schedule this season with the exception of West Jefferson who they travel to in Week 2. Gone are the likes of Assumption, H.L. Bourgeois Broadmoor and Catholic as the Griffins welcome defending Class 3A champion Lutcher to Geismar to open the season before hosting quarterfinalists Thibodaux of 5A and St. John of 1A and traveling to Parkview Baptist to wrap up the slate.

“We play two state champions and six district champions,” Saia said. “You have to play a schedule and if we can weather that storm, we will be a pretty good football team at the end. I am hoping to win a few football games. I would like to have a gimme on that schedule but it is not there so we are going to play who we play and see where the chips fall. When you have a reputation of being a good program people don’t want to play you.”

The Griffins remain in District 5-5A, a powerhouse league that consistently sends four teams to the playoffs and has claimed the last two Class 5A state championships. Dutchtown opens the slate against two-time defending state champion Destrehan at home before traveling to parish rival St. Amant and Hahnville. After hosting East St. John, they wrap up the regular season at another parish rival East Ascension.

“If you win this district, you have got a chance to win the state,” Saia said. “ Winning the district doesn’t mean as much as it used to with the power system. You just want to get into the playoffs with a favorable seeding. If you believe in the foundation that has been laid then you show up and play everyday, do the best you can do and don’t point fingers. That is when you have a program.”

OUTLOOK – With so many underclassmen starting, Saia believes the key will be keeping the spirit of the tradition grown at Dutchtown alive as the team progreses.

“Obviously, we have to stay healthy and we just have to get better everyday,” Saia said. “The main thing I want out of this team is to show up and play as hard as they can play. Keep the program together and moving forward and keep everything positive. That is what is going to determine if we have a program or not. You try to get better from week to week and hope the ball bounces your way.”

“Our goal is to be as good as we can be at the end of the year. I have no idea where we will end up but I believe in these guys and I think they believe in the coaches and if you have those two things, you have a chance.”

Dutchtown senior Eric Reid