For the better part of a decade, Destrehan made deep run after deep run in the postseason and kept knocking on the door of a state championship.
In 2022, the Wildcats utterly smashed that door.
Destrehan went 14-0, putting away the vast majority of opponents by halftime. The defense was again airtight. The offense again led by an overpowering run game. Special teams again were special. And its passing game made a massive leap, with quarterback Jai Eugene earning Offensive MVP honors in Class 5A as result.
The team must replace Eugene, as well as a full senior class of 2023 that saw more collegiate signees than ever. Expectations remain high, nowhere more so than in-house at Destrehan. While replacing several starters, head coach Marcus Scott sees a number of cornerstones return from that championship squad as well as numerous talented players ready to step up. The Wildcats defeated fellow state champion Lutcher 7-0 in last week’s jamboree and kick off the regular season tonight at Wildcat Stadium, hosting Bonnabel.
After three seasons as the team’s starting quarterback – as well as two semifinal appearances, a state championship and a Class 5A Offensive MVP honor – Jai Eugene has moved on to the next level, set for his first season with the Tulane Green Wave.
Jackson Fields is the successor. Like Eugene, Fields takes the helm to begin his sophomore season, with a chance to perhaps lead the Wildcats over the next three seasons. Fields has looked good in his limited action before the public so far, with solid performances in the team’s spring game with Karr and its jamboree against Lutcher.
“I thought Jackson played with poise the other night,” said Destrehan head coach Marcus Scott. “And he showed out well for being his first game under the lights, at home for the jamboree.”
Senior Braden Fenerty will back him up but Scott said he will also see time at the position.
Shane Lee has been central to the Destrehan offense, both over the past two seasons as starter and in his playing time as a freshman in 2020. The two-sport star has a lot to look forward to on the football field and baseball diamond alike as he begins his senior season – but nobody on the opposing side will ever look forward to tackling the punishing runner.
“Shane’s a talented athlete, and he doesn’t get satisfied,” Scott said. “His mentality sets him apart. He always works hard and leads by example – we’re fortunate to have him and his leadership for one more season.”
Juniors Shane Ward and Jayden Bailey back him up. Destrehan has rotated its backs regularly in order to keep Lee fresh before unleashing him in the playoffs, so the two junior backs figure to see their share of playing time.
“Ward’s kind of a combination – he can run with power and he blocks really well. He can catch it out the backfield,” Scott said. “Jayden is probably the fastest of the three backs. He’s a slasher and he also runs it tough inside. He’s a talented guy. (Ward and Bailey) should contribute a lot as the year goes on.”
Makylon Smothers was having a breakout preseason last year before suffering a torn ACL. He’s back now and figures to see a large role as the receiving corps’ lone senior.
“He’s really starting to come back around,” Scott said. “He seems like he’s getting back to normal after the injury. He’s a big guy who can take the top off the defense.”
He’ll primarily play on the outside. Joining him are juniors Phillip Wright III and Johnnie Thiel IV. Both players are returning starters – each started all 14 games – and wins – during the Wildcats’ championship run.
“Those guys made some big plays for us against Westgate in the semifinals,” said Scott. “They bring some experience for us.”
Sophomores Jabari Mack and Greg Wilfred will add to a talented group this season, as well as junior Daquan Dabney.
Juniors Brody Picou, Noah Bagwell and Brian Guichard will see time at tight end. Each is new to the position.
Bagwell and Guichard bring prototypical size to the fold. Picou, meanwhile, is a versatile athlete who also plays on the defensive side of the ball as an end/outside linebacker.
“He backs up (Kolaj) Cobbins on defense, but (Picou) can give us minutes at tight end as well,” Scott said. “They’re all kind of young and they should keep getting better.”
Kolaj Cobbins is a game wrecker for the opposing offense.
Cobbins, an LSU commitment, has been a sought after recruit from even his sophomore season on, when he broke onto the scene in a big way. Now a senior, the 6’4, 215 pound edge rusher is a true weapon on defense and can line up as a defensive end or at outside linebacker. He’s gotten bigger and stronger and said after the team’s spring game he’s worked on his coverage skills when dropping back.
“We’re excited about what he’ll bring as a senior,” said Scott. “He’s a leader on and off the field and also in the classroom. When your better players are also great leaders and great people, you have a chance.”
Senior Jairin McCall is another impact player and will provide another experienced anchor for the front. McCall showed he could dominate in several games last season and the Wildcats will count on him to continue his rise.
Seniors Gideon Bowman, Dylan Thomas and Kam Thomas and juniors Noah Murr and Bryce Bufkin will join them in a defensive line rotation that helped DHS shut out a defending state champion in Lutcher in last week’s 7-0 jamboree victory.
Senior Arrington Adams and junior Myd Gilbert man the middle of this defense. Juniors Semaj Walker and Brady Napolitano are also to see time and add to a position that’s long been a strength for Destrehan.
“They can run and they’re aggressive,” Scott said. “I think they’ve gotten better since the spring. Coach (Allen) Pittman has done a really good job with them and getting them ready to play this year.”
Anthony Robinson leads the way here. You can call him a safety or call him a corner, but absolutely call him a playmaker. Players like Macon Clark and Tyler Morton have seen huge seasons in recent years and Robinson figures to be deployed like them, moving around the formation but seeing lots of time in the slot, where he’s always a threat to blitz or play coverage alike.
This will be his fourth year as starter – one of those at wide receiver as a freshman, the past two at defensive back – and is the most experienced member of this secondary, which lost plenty of experience from its state title squad. But junior Jhase Thomas – son of former Saints’ standout cornerback Fred Thomas – seniors Tai Terrell, Braylon Cryer, Jermaine White and Korwin and sophomore Heywood Howard give Destrehan a deep and talented group of defensive backs. Thomas and White will start at safety, while Terrell and Cryer will be the starting outside cornerbacks.
Kaleb Johnson was Destrehan’s punter and kicker before an injury ended his year. Lacy took over both jobs from there and held down that role through the team’s Superdome victory over Ruston. It gives the team the luxury of two reliable options with experience.
“Kaleb’s been working hard to rehab and get back to 100 percent,” said Scott. “Both guys can punt, kick field goals and kick off for us.”
The Wildcats again have a wealth of talent to choose from as return men. Anthony Robinson, Greg Wilfred, Phillip Wright and Jabari Mack will all serve as both kickoff and punt returners at different times.