High school football: Parish coaches see progress during spring practice

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Five Bossier Parish schools completed spring practice last week. As usual, coaches saw plenty of positive things and also areas that need work over the summer heading into preseason practice.
“I thought overall it was a really good spring for us,” said Airline coach Bo Meeks, whose team finished 7-4 last season. “We had a lot of improvement.”
Two big priorities for the Vikings are replacing the entire offensive line and quarterback.
“That’s a first,” Meeks said of replacing every lineman. “I’ve never had to replace five before. We’ve got a really good core of young guys coming back. Three of those guys are going to be juniors and two seniors. They did a really good job, especially getting some tough looks in practice. We’ve got a long way to go but really made some big improvement.”
Tarik Demery and newcomer Brad Fream both played with the first team in last Friday’s scrimmage against Northwood.
“It’s been a good spring evaluating the quarterbacks,” Meeks said. “Both Brad and Tarik did some really good things and we feel like that both of those guys can lead us. We’re going to try to find the guy who is the best fit for our team to be successful. We feel good about both of them.
“The battle is going to continue. They’re both great young men and very competitive. We’re looking forward to how they progress and the competition through the summer and in the fall to win the job.”
Meeks liked what he saw from the first-team offense during the scrimmage.
“We made some plays when we had the opportunity, and I thought the offense played really, really well.”
Meeks was very pleased with the way his defense played. There are several experienced players returning led by All-Parish linebacker Josh James.
“They really continued to get better through the whole spring and really, really played well tonight,” Meeks said.
Parkway lost two big-time players on offense — quarterback Keondre Wudtee and receiver/running back CJ Morgan. But Coach David Feaster has plenty of talent returning off a team that went 12-2 last year, shared the District 1-5A title and reached the semifinals of the playoffs.
It showed in last Friday’s scrimmage against Ouachita Parish in Monroe.
According to Parkway stats, junior quarterback Justin Rogers completed 17 of 28 passes for 464 yards and seven touchdowns. The TD passes went to Terrace Marshall Jr. (54 yards, 70 yards), Robert McKnight (4 yards, 51 yards, 20 yards, 44 yards) and Derrick Mitchell (35 yards).
McKnight (7-169) and Marshall (4-168) were both first-team All-Parish selections last season. Rogers has already gotten several offers from major college programs.
“I still think we have the best quarterback in the country for the sixth year or whatever it is,” Feaster said. “He’s going to be phenomenal.”
He said the Ouachita scrimmage was a chance for college scouts to see what he can do in a game-type situation.
“A lot of people have offered him and some people said they want to wait to see him start a game and play against some good competition as a starter, not just cleanup or JV ball.
“Ouachita is a quality program. They did a good job of mixing in blitzes and got after us pass rushing a little bit. But he stood in the pocket and took it. He got hit several times but just delivered the ball on target and had a very solid day.”
Overall, Feaster said it was another good spring.
“We’ve obviously got some shoes to fill,” he said. “We graduated some pretty good guys. We had six guys at the table on National Signing Day and a lot of other good players beside that. And so there was obviously some questions marks and our guys stepped up. I’m not saying we have it solved yet. I think there are some questions to be answered as far as who works the hardest over the summer and who prepares between now and then. But for a large extent we liked what we saw.”
Defensively, Feaster cited the play of backs Derious Bradford, Malcolm Banks and Jalen Hall, linebacker Joey Cook and lineman Nick So’oto.
Haughton has a new coach in Jason Brotherton, but it wasn’t his first time to take the Bucs through spring practice. He also did so in 2014 while then coach Rodney Guin was recovering from a heart attack.
“Spring practice was good for a week,” Brotherton said. “It was time for it to be over with. Those kids are fired up when they get out there, but they’re ready to get out of school. There’s so much stuff going on. But we got out of it what we wanted to get out of it. We found some guys that can play that we weren’t sure about.
“To me in the spring, you get those baby steps out of the way so when you get to August you can really hit it running. I think we got to that point.”
Brotherton, a longtime Haughton assistant, takes over a team that went 6-5 last season. The Bucs fared well in a scrimmage against North Webster at Haughton last Friday.
In the first series of plays, Haughton’s defense held North Webster without a first down four consecutive times.
“The defense played good at the start of the scrimmage,” Brotherton said. “Like I told them, if you’re in a real game that’s like getting to the middle of the second quarter before giving up a first down when you go four straight possessions three and out.
“The defense played with a lot of energy and a lot of enthusiasm, and the offense had some big plays.”
As usual, the Bucs will have plenty of speed in 2016. Running backs Lavonta Gipson and Kynan Hayes and receiver/running back Josh Lister were all on the winning Class 5A 4X100-meter relay team at the state meet on May 7.
Lister caught a long pass that set up a touchdown on the first play of the scrimmage. Gipson also scored a touchdown, and Hayes had a nice catch-and-run.
Brotherton said it’s likely going to be “running back by committee” at least early this season with Lister and even Duncan Smith, a three-year starter at linebacker, getting some opportunities to carry the ball.
“(Gipson) has a lot of potential,” Brotherton said. “He’s a good runner. We’ve just got to get him to where he’s doing all the little things right.”
Pryce Curry takes over at quarterback.
“With Pryce, his deal is he’s got to get to where he can get to his second and third reads,” Brotherton said. “When his first read is open and he can throw the ball on time he’s as good as any we’ve had. When that reads not open and he’s got to go to that next read, that’s where he’s got to better and I think he will. He made some progress.”
Bossier finished spring practice with about 40 players and should have 50-plus when fall practice starts.
Offensively, Coach Michael Concilio returns his entire backfield except for leading rusher Aaeron Smallwood from a team that went 3-7 last season.
“We counted 13 kids that finished spring that played all 10 football games last season,” Concilio said.
Running back Xavier Venious, a district champion hurdler, and lanky wide receiver Kevin Bonapart give Bossier some big-play potential.
“We had two good weeks of practice,” Bossier offensive coordinator Brad Bernard said. “We have some really experienced backs, a lot of athletes coming back.”
While the Bearkats didn’t score, Bossier moved the ball well, Concilio said.
He came away from the spring game with a much better feeling about his team than he did last year.
“It didn’t really go well in the spring last year,” he said. “It was really miserable. The outcome was really embarrassing.
“This year we saw some very, very big improvements and we moved the football real well.”
The first-team defense allowed one touchdown. Defensive assistant Allen Wood said Bossier spent much of the spring installing a new scheme.
“We’re pleased with the way the kids played,” Wells said. “They had just 10 days to learn it.” 
Plain Dealing coach James Thurman ended last season with about 16 able-bodied players, so he’s very happy that about 30 went through spring practice with him.
“We went into the spring just trying to evaluate some young kids trying to get our numbers up a little bit,” said Thurman, whose team went 3-8 last season. “Another thing we really wanted to try to do as much as we could is try to find somebody to get in the end zone that’s not wearing No. 2 and we were able to do that.”
No. 2 is receiver Keldrick Carper, one of the top prospects in the state in the Class of 2017 and a first-team Class 1A All-State selection last season. Carper did catch a touchdown pass in the Lions’ scrimmage against North Caddo, but the Lions also got two TDs from Shavolyea McKinney and one from Derrion Washington.
Thurman also liked the way quarterback Matt Sullivan performed.
“Offensively, we were trying to come out and establish a little bit of continuity,” he said. “That’s where we struggled this past season, trying to find our identity offensively and I think we really had a good showing offensively this spring.”
There is a new LHSAA rule that allows schools to start practice a week early in the fall instead of having spring practice. Benton coach Reynolds Moore decided to take advantage of it, and the Tigers did not have spring practice.
One reason, Moore said, is the backup quarterback situation is in flux. Two-year starter Garrett Hable helped Benton reach the Class 4A quarterfinals in baseball. Had Benton gone farther, he would’ve been playing at about the same time most teams were having scrimmages.
Moore didn’t want to go against another team without a quarterback with at least some experience.
“We fully expect all our teams to win, and we felt like when we made the decision our baseball team had a really good chance to still be playing,” he said. “We wanted to make sure we were able to support them, and I didn’t want Garrett to feel any kind of pressure or worries about not being over there (at football practice).”
Moore said his backup quarterback this fall will likely be a freshman. There are a couple of current freshmen with no experience that could’ve played in a scrimmage, but he didn’t think it was beneficial to put them in that situation. Benton was scheduled to scrimmage Haughton.
The Tigers are returning eight other starters on offense from a team that won the District 1-4A championship and finished 10-2 last season. There are some holes on defense, but lineman TJ Anderson, linebacker Jordan Myles and back Sam Simmons lead a core group of returnees.
Moore said he plans to be careful with how he uses the extra week of fall practice.
“We’re going to make sure we’re not overextending our kids,” he said. “We obviously always plan to play as long as we can, deep into the fall and hopefully into December in the winter.
“But we don’t want that initial week to make for a long season for our guys so we’ll be real careful about that. We probably won’t do a ton of banging around. We’ll probably be able to get that in early on and taper as we get close to the start of the season, the scrimmage, jamboree, things like that.”

— Russell Hedges, rhedges@bossierpress.com