Senior leaders shine during Spartans' spring practice
The East Ascension Spartans are finishing up spring practice this week, and head coach Darnell Lee has been impressed with how his team performed in the trenches.
“We got physical. We made a few changes up front. The offensive line did a great job for us this spring, and our defense has been strong,” Lee said.
This should be no surprise.
East Ascension had an outstanding season in 2017 that saw them go 8-2 during the regular season, win a share of the District 5-5A title and reach the second round of the playoffs.
Much of their success stemmed from an offensive line that bolstered three all-district selections and a defense that only gave up 13 points per game.
Lee said that he thinks his team has the potential to be strong on both fronts again this year—even though they lose LSU signee Cameron Wire and McNeese State signee Chandler Perer on the offensive line and Jordan Campbell on the defensive line.
“If we can get these youngsters to step up, we’re gonna be pretty good. As a team, if we can stay healthy, I think we have a chance to be as good, if not better than last year,” Lee said. “When Cameron Wire was out last year, it gave some guys chances to get some quality reps. That’s going to make us stronger as a unit.”
All-district stars Deshon Hall and Stanford Knockum both return on the defensive front.
Lee said that returning first-team all-district lineman Faelepule Alo will move to center and will serve as the anchor of their offensive line.
He’ll be protecting Jason Wakefield—who earned all-district honors in his first full season as the starting quarterback. Although, he hasn’t been able to participate in spring practice for the Spartans.
“Our quarterback Jason Wakefield has been out with a shoulder injury from baseball, so we’ve gone to Cameron Jones—who was our JV quarterback last year,” Lee said. “He’s a good athlete, a basketball player and a good receiver. He’s a duel-threat quarterback. He can run it, and he can throw it, so we’re excited about him. We look forward to getting Wakefield back in the fall.
The biggest hurdle East Ascension will face will be replacing Arkansas at Monticello signee Jimel London.
London did everything for the Spartans in 2017. On offense, he was their leading rusher as he chalked up 900 yards and 12 touchdowns. In special teams, he returned two kicks for scores, and on defense, he was their top cornerback with three interceptions.
Lee thinks there are players on each side of the ball that can pick up the slack of London’s departure.
“Kael Babin has been stepping up offensively. Nick Massey is healthy now, and he’s a different animal when he’s healthy. So, they’ll pick it up on the offensive side,” Lee said. “Defensively, Jaqunn Mitchell is becoming a leader in the secondary for us. In the kicking game, we have Alberto Ontiveros doing a good job for us. I think we’re physically prepared. Now it’s just a matter of our kids being mentally ready.”
Lee said that running back is one of their deepest positions this year.
“We have some good backs. We have about six or seven of them. We have some eighth-graders that are pushing for some varsity time,” Lee said.
Another player that has impressed the third-year coach over the spring is senior wide receiver Markquell Stewart.
“I think the core of seniors we have is really strong,” Lee said.
Lee was happy with the success of last year, but he said it’s now in the rearview for his team. He wants them to keep moving forward.
“We’re only as good as our last game. We’re still thinking about that loss to Live Oak in the playoffs,” Lee said. “We scored more points than them in last year’s spring game, but they scored more points when it mattered. We just want to get better.”