Destrehan preview: Wildcats have Dome return, victory in their sights for 2022

Jai Eugene of Destrehan (Photo by Sean McGraw)

Destrehan is in the midst of one of the most remarkable runs in the state of Louisiana, with playoff runs to at least the Class 5A semifinals in seven of the past nine years – and each of the past four seasons.

The 2022 Destrehan squad is looking to finish this campaign off with that elusive state championship – and to that end, this is a team with one of the most talent-rich rosters in the state, with countless players recruited or committed to play at the collegiate level, some of those among the most sought after players in the nation. Fans will have plenty to be excited about  at Wildcat Stadium over the coming weeks.

Quarterback

Freshly Tulane-committed Jai Eugene returns as one of the state’s most experienced starting quarterbacks. If his preseason work was any indication, he is in for his best season yet. Eugene has helped lead Destrehan to the Class 5A semifinals in both of his two years as the Wildcats’ full-time starter, while he also experienced some action during his freshman season as Destrehan marched to the Superdome and a 5A title game appearance.

The son of former LSU star Jai Eugene, the senior will follow in his father’s footsteps and play defensive back at the next level. He’s assuredly going to see time in the Destrehan secondary as well this season. DHS coach Marcus Scott said Eugene has had a tremendous spring and summer, putting the work in to try to get Destrehan over the hump and to the 5A championship.

“He’s made strides in the passing game. His mechanics have improved through the offseason,” said Scott. “He’s a lot more confident. He’s making the throws he might have second-guessed in the past.”

He will be backed up by Braden Fenerty and Patrick McNulty.

Running back

Shane Lee is one of the most dangerous rushers in the state, and though he’s just a junior, he already has two seasons of significant playing time under his belt as he enters year two as the Wildcats’ starting running back. Lee, a two-sport star who also has proven a standout in baseball, has already been offered by Florida State and Miami.  The 5’10, 200 pound running back knows how to finish a run – around or through the opponent.

But Lee won’t carry the load alone, because alongside him Destrehan boasts a trio of rushers who likewise strike fear into any opposing defense. Brandon Freeman and Trey Nixon have already shown to be very productive and each played extensively last season. Making this a four-headed monster will be Christian Nunnery, who Scott notes brings high-level skills of his own.

“They’re unselfish – they all pull for one another,” Scott said. “That’s what’s huge about this group. All four guys will play and each guy brings something different. They work together. Brandon, Trey and Christian can start for most teams. And Shane is splitting carries with those guys, and he’s playing some on defense now. They play their roles, they don’t complain about it, and they’re happy to see one another succeed. And that’s pretty special.”

 Wide receiver

There are precious few high school football players who have started more games and seen more snaps than senior and Louisiana-Lafayette commitment Daniel Blood, the top returning target for the Wildcats.

Blood, who doubles as one of the state’s top return specialists, started for Destrehan in the Class 5A championship game when he was just a freshman. Two trips to the state semifinals later, and it’s clear as day that this is a player who understands how to win – and has the kind of connection with Eugene that can only be built through countless snaps together on Friday nights.

“They know each other. They’ve seen a lot of different scenarios together, different coverages and they’re on the same page,” Scott said. “That experience with one another is critical.”

Returning starter Leslie Jefferson broke loose last season as a junior, and is a dangerous threat both downfield and as a runner after the catch.

Dorian Smith and Johnnie Thiel IV – son of the former East St. John star passer – have been starting alongside Blood and Jefferson through the spring and summer. Phillip Wright and Kaden Nickelson round out the pass-catching corps. The team lost a potential breakout star in Makylon Smothers, who was lost for the season due to injury after a strong offseason.

Offensive line

Three full-time starters return for Destrehan as well as an experienced fourth player for a line that is yet another unit bringing strong continuity for the Wildcats.

Center Alexander Hamilton, guard Landry Cannon and tackle Christian Martin are back in the starting lineup while right tackle Jayce Mitchell will join the unit as a full-time starter after getting playing time in different sub-packages last season. Michael Reed will start at the other guard spot, while Peyton Weiter and Yarnell Smith will push for time. It’s a group with a good blend of size and ability to move.

“These guys have played against some really good defensive fronts,” Scott said. “They love blocking in the running game, but our pass protection should improve as well. We have a group we feel very good about.”

Defensive line

Junior Kolaj Cobbins made his presence known very early in the 2021 season, making several impact plays in his team’s 38-7 victory over Hahnville to open the 2021 campaign. The outside linebacker’s speed and length at 6’3, 200 pounds made it difficult for opposing players to escape him, and already he is highly sought after by collegiate programs – he’s earned offers from a who’s who of college programs, including LSU, Alabama, Georgia, Michigan, Miami, Notre Dame, Ole Miss and countless others.

Cobbins finished with 60 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss and 12 sacks. When he got to his destination, he made an impact – Cobbins forced a team-high eight fumbles and registered 11 quarterback pressures as he stormed his way to an All-State first team selection.

The scary thing? Scott says he’s gotten much better.

“He was largely a speed guy off the edge, but now he’s to the point where he’s as effective on the interior, and he’s done a lot of work to be effective in coverage as well,” said Scott. “He projects as an outside linebacker … he can do some awesome things that really help us.”

Rayquan Ducre, Amare Johnson and Jairin McCall round out that group.

“Ducre is the stabilizing force,” said Scott. “A program kid who works very hard. He’s going into the military once he’s through here. He does everything right. Amare gives us some size, as does Jairin, up the middle.”

Linebacker

New starters across for the Wildcats in the middle of the field.

Andrew Schaefer and Arrington Adams take over at linebacker for the Wildcats, while Myd Gilbert is also slated for considerable playing time.

Schaefer is a vocal leader and senior who doubles as the team’s long snapper. Arrington, a junior, and Gilbert, a sophomore, will be seeing their first major action.

“Those guys are both quiet, hard workers … they’ll be getting a lot of experience early,” Scott said. “That comes with a learning curve, but they’ll adjust.”

Shane Lee, meanwhile, is going to see action on the defensive side of the ball for the first time in his prep career. He’s no stranger to that side of the ball, though.

“Someone showed me film of Shane as a young kid playing defense … said he might be an even better defensive player than running back,” Scott said with a laugh. “So I say, ‘Well, we’ve got to start working him in on defense.’”

Early returns through spring and summer action certainly indicate Lee looks more than ready.

Defensive back

This is one of the most decorated and experienced units in the state.

Safety Lynard Harris and cornerback Kevin Adams will each be fourth year starters. Junior Anthony Robinson will be as well once his run at Destrehan is over, and is another hotly recruited Wildcat underclassman who has offers from Ole Miss and Mississippi State – all three players are getting major attention from the next level.

“It doesn’t happen often,” Scott said of having a team unit with multiple players who have started from their freshman year onward. “You aren’t worried about things like them seeing something new and busting a coverage, because they’ve already seen so much.”

Talented corners Travon Thomas and Tai Terrell round out this dangerous secondary, each bringing their considerable skills to the table as well.

“It’s an excellent group,” said Scott. “They’ve played so many snaps and they can each play every position … they’re interchangeable, and that along with their knowledge of the game allows us to really mix and match coverages.”

Special Teams

Kaleb Johnson takes over as punter and placekicker from Will Bryant, a multi-year starter for the Wildcats. Johnson’s had a strong offseason to match his strong leg, Scott said.

Daniel Blood, Christian Nunnery and Phillip Wright will combine to handle kickoff and punt return duties.

 

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