East Ascension looking to reload
After a year full of near-misses and heart-breaking defeats in 2012, the East Ascension Spartans put it all together in 2013--culminating in an 8-2 finish and a trip to the playoffs.
Unfortunately for the Spartans, they lost many of their key starters from that unit. This year, they'll try to duplicate last year's success with a crop of fresh new faces.
Last season, East Ascension ran out to a perfect 7-0 start before losing two of their final three games. The late skid forced them to finish third in District 5-5A behind Catholic and Dutchtown.
After being ranked in the top 10 for much of the year, the Spartans reached the second round of the playoffs where they were upset by Covington.
From that team, East Ascension loses explosive tailback Sione Palelei--an Oklahoma State signee. The Spartans had to play much of last season without him after he tore his ACL in the fifth game of the season.
Before the injury, Palelei was on a torrid pace--running for 710 yards with 14 total touchdowns.
Along with Palelei, two-year starter at quarterback Layne Trahan and versatile wideout Chad Hill make their exits.
However, it's on the defensive end where the Spartans have been hit the hardest. They lose Deandre Darville, Devin Simoneaux, Tyler Green, JaLon Watts and Dominique Williams; all five players signed with colleges. Darville was All-State and District 5-5A Defensive MVP.
"We're returning seven starters this year. Any time you have so many young kids starting, it's a challenge," East Ascension head coach Paul Bourgeois said. "You can have freshmen and sophomores lined up against juniors and seniors; that's a big gap in maturity level. We definitely have some challenges ahead, but we're hoping our leadership can carry us through."
Though East Ascension loses a wealth of experience, Coach Bourgeois still likes the group he'll lead into 2014.
"We lost a strong senior crop, but our younger kids are stepping up. They're having fun learning and growing together," Bourgeois said.
The Spartans still have the potential to be formidable on offense. They return five starters from an offensive unit that put up 35 points a game last year.
Coach Bourgeois says that their experience on the offensive line is his team's greatest strength. The unit will feature seasoned guys like seniors Sam Hargrave and Ryan Keller.
When it comes to the skill-position players, East Ascension returns starting tight end Kade Waguespack and two dependable running backs in Josh Walker and Josh Bates.
Both players got significant carries last year after Palelei went down in week five.
"They better be ready. We're putting a lot of weight on those guys; I hope they're ready, and I think they are," Bourgeois said. "They've prepared well, they've had good summers and I think they're ready for the challenges ahead. They're going to be getting a lot of attention."
Much of the Spartans' success will hinge on first-year starter at quarterback Kyrin Irvin. He has to replace a guy in Trahan that was first-team all-district the past two seasons.
"Kyrin is going to make mistakes. When you're playing quarterback, there are just so many scenarios where you're having to make decisions--good or bad," Bourgeois said. "And the thing is, he can make good decisions that people don't really notice, but they're quick to recognize the bad ones. Some growing pains are expected, but I think he'll do well."
First-year starter Josh Andrews could prove to be Irvin's favorite target at wideout.
It's the defense that could give East Ascension the most trouble. They only return two starters from a unit that bolstered five first and second-team all-district players from a year ago.
Coach Bourgeois is expecting senior linebacker Donovan Julian to lead the charge along with senior safety Malik Anderson. Anderson was an honorable mention all-district player last season.
The Spartans will kick the season off with the LeBlanc's Jamboree next Friday night at The Pit against archrival St. Amant.