Spartans to be led by talented skill group in 2019
After the team's most successful season in a decade, East Ascension is looking to continue the program's upward trajectory in 2019, under fourth-year head coach Darnell Lee.
But it won't be easy. The Spartans are tasked with replacing 11 players that earned all-district honors last season. But Lee will still have plenty of talent at his disposal.
Last season, East Ascension went 9-1 during the regular season and finished as the District 5-5A runner-up. From there, they reached the state quarterfinals for the first time in a decade.
They then came an eye lash away from reaching the semis, as they dropped a 27-24 heartbreaker on the road against fourth-seeded John Ehret.
Many pieces are missing from that team. Most notably--they won't have last year's Parish Defensive MVP and Louisiana Tech signee Deshon Hall. Hall had 12 sacks last season.
They must also replace starting quarterback Jason Wakefield, as well as first-team all-district standouts Stanford Knockum (defensive line), Derrick Smith (linebacker), Jaqunn Mitchell (defensive back), Shaivonn Robinson (receiver) and Alberto Ontiveros (kicker).
Also, All-State center Falepule Alo was supposed to be returning for his senior season, but before the spring, he and his family moved back to Utah.
"Losing Falepule unexpectedly was a big loss. We were counting on him, but we have some guys stepping up," Lee said. "We have returning starters in Michael Bailey, Gavin Soniat and Brenden Wenzy. One of the brightest surprises has been Demarcus Ester. He’s real green, but he’s 6-2, about 275 and mean. So, that helps, but losing Falepule is tough."
The Spartans also lose a starting linebacker in Falepule's brother, Johnny Alo.
“Johnny was a starting linebacker, so they were two impact players. We lost some blue-chippers with them," Lee said. "Johnny really had a lot of potential. We’re moving Rionte Jones. He was one of our running backs last year. We’re moving him to linebacker with Javon Carter and Brent Ragusa."
Carter is one of the top players East Ascension returns from last season. He was all-district, along with Dajon Jones.
"Dajon Jones is back. He was an all-district guy for us last year," Lee said. "He’s another long guy for us on that defensive line. So, we’re fortunate in some areas, but there are some holes to fill. We lost some good players.”
Other impact players on the Spartan defense this season will be defensive back Jyren Ester and defensive end Jerrell Boykins, Jr.
They will not be totally green at quarterback. Although Cameron Jones is a first-year starter, he saw action as the backup last season. He even started last spring, due to Wakefield being out with an injury.
"He’s gonna give us some athleticism there that we haven’t had in a while. He can make all the throws, and we have a slew of running backs. Those guys are really looking good," Lee said.
The Spartans will return most of their skill-position players. That includes first-team all-district receiver Steven McBride, along with fellow wideouts Jyrin Johnson and Amarius Williams.
They will also have a loaded backfield that will consist of Ethan Bagwell, Kendall Washington and Jeffery Hills.
Coach Lee said that the Spartans' offensive skill is "probably the strongest personnel group on the team right now."
They'l have to perform well. East Ascension has a difficult schedule to navigate in 2019.
In the season opener, they'll face two-time defending Class 5A champion Zachary. They also play Warren Easton and St. Charles in non-district matchups.
And of course, they'll have a tough district slate that includes games against Catholic, Dutchtown and St. Amant.
"We will know where we are early on in our pre-district schedule," Lee said. "If we can remain healthy and gel as a team, we will have an opportunity to be a good ball club."