Spring football returns for East Ascension

Kyle Riviere
Gonzales Weekly Citizen
The Spartans had nearly two full weeks of spring football and will play Denham Springs in a scrimmage game on Saturday.

Last season, spring football was cancelled throughout the country due to the emergence of the Coronavirus pandemic.

A year later, schools here in Louisiana are finally able to get out and utilize these practice sessions.

East Ascension is one of these schools. The Spartans have had two weeks of spring practice, and head coach Darnell Lee said that it’s been tremendously productive for his team.

“It’s valuable. You can’t measure it--being out here for this experience,” Lee said. “Last year, for our first game against Northwest, we were alternating quarterbacks every series. We weren’t underestimating our opponent; we were just trying to settle our quarterback battle. Now that we have a spring, it gives us an opportunity to see them out here mixing it up, seeing some adversity and we get to see how they respond.”

East Ascension shuffled two quarterbacks during 2020—Troy Dunn and Kullen Wheat. Eventually, Wheat sustained a season-ending injury, prompting Dunn to be the full-time starter for the remainder of the year.

Coach Lee said that he has taken a huge step forward so far this spring.

“Troy Dunn is a different animal now,” Lee said. “He’s got a year under his belt, he’s throwing the ball better, he knows what to expect now and he has a good feel for the plays that we’re running. The guys around him are a little bit better. We did lose some key guys on the offensive line. That’s big when your quarterback is on the move, trying to keep defenses off-balance.”

Dunn will have plenty of talented targets to get the ball to this fall. Lee raved about tight end Jacquel Mack and receivers Zhavier Jupiter and Jacorey Mitchell.

Lee also thinks Walter Samuel, an all-district running back in 2020, could be in for a huge fall.

“Walter Samuel is special. He’s around 205 right now, and he’s probably the fastest person on the team,” Lee said. “He can catch the ball out of the backfield, and we’ve been running some empty-formation plays with him.”

After losing all-district players like Gavin Soniat, Dezmond Schuster and Navell Chopin on offense, Coach Lee said that he’s looking for guys to grow up fast.

“We have a chance to have a team with a good bit of chemistry,” Lee said. “We have some guys that are gritty, but we also have some guys that are going to have to learn how to be gritty. They’re good kids, but they’re facing some adversity right now. They’re getting hit in the mouth by that defense.”

It’s an East Ascension defensive unit that lost players like Jerrell Boykins, Jr., Ashton Milton, Blake Thompson and Kael Babin.

But the Spartans still have starting linebacker Rionte Jones, who was one of the best defensive players in the area last season.

“We have Rionte Jones in there, 300 pounds and playing linebacker. He’s shooting gaps and looking like a defensive lineman. He’s coming back as a leader for us, and the guys respond to him,” Lee said.

The Spartans went 4-3 in 2020 and reached the second round of the playoffs, before being eliminated by eventual state champion Acadiana.

They’re looking to take the next step in 2021, but it won’t be easy. Their schedule is brutal. In addition to the always-tough District 5-5A slate, the Spartans will play Zachary, Scotlandville, Destrehan and Walker.

“We’re going to be young in some spots, but we’re going to have some guys with experience that are going to help us,” Lee said.

East Ascension will conclude its spring this Saturday. The Spartans will play a scrimmage on the road against Denham Springs.