The hype continues to build for what’s become an annual event at ULM’s Malone Stadium, as 12 local head coaches represented their schools at the Bayou Jamb 2019 Media Day at St. Francis Medical Center Tuesday.
In highlighting the two-day event, one-liners were hurled, players were recognized and tributes were given to honorees Mickey Easterling and Frederick “Bear” McHenry. But at the helm of all preseason banter was football talk for an event stacked with six intriguing matchups.
Neville vs. West Monroe (8 p.m. Friday)
Headlining the Bayou Jamb 2019 will be the Rebels and the Tigers once more. Neville head coach Mickey McCarty reflected on the very first Bayou Jamb presser and how he and Ouachita Christian head coach Steven Fitzhugh have become the veterans of the event. And it’s an event that McCarty considered significant for the community, as more than 29,000 fans gathered to witness last year’s action. While it doesn’t count for wins or losses, the event certainly yields a nice measuring stick for all coaches involved.
“As we start the jamboree, we also start the season with the finish in mind,” McCarty said. “The start of the season, everybody cranks the start cord. Let’s see if this thing will run or not. How does the motor sound? Where do we need to tweak it? That’s what the Bayou Jamb is all about.”
West Monroe head coach Jerry Arledge called the event a “win-win situation” for the schools and the community. Seeing Neville on the schedule for a jamboree tilt provides the offseason motivation West Monroe coaches are looking for, and it also issues an opportunity to play a really good team without the fear of a loss. Or so Arledge claimed…
“This may sound strange, but it really does not matter to me who wins the ball game. Am I lying? I’m lying,” Arledge said.
McCarty couldn’t help but laugh.
“I was curious to see how Coach Arledge was going to finish that statement earlier when he said it doesn’t’ really matter about the score,” McCarty said. “I was going to remind him a couple of years ago when they scored with under a minute to play and went for two, the score matters.”
Oak Grove vs. Mangham (6:30 p.m. Friday)
While Arledge and McCarty are certainly familiar faces at the event, a fresh face will make his coaching debut under the bright lights of Malone Stadium Friday night.
Scott Wilcher begins his head coaching career at Mangham against an Oak Grove squad that played for the Class 1A State Championship a season ago.
“Thanks to Patti (Thurmon) because not only is she letting us play in this, but she’s letting us play against Oak Grove, who went to the Superdome,” Wilcher said. “And playing before Neville and West Monroe, so that’s a great way to make your debut as a first time coach. No pressure there.”
Oak Grove head coach Ryan Gregory looked forward to meeting the Dragons Friday night and hoped it would become the norm in the future.
“It’s good for us to play Mangham,” Gregory said. “That’s a deep tradition there. Hopefully we can get them back on the schedule in the regular season because that’s always a game people in Mangham and Oak Grove look forward to.”
Franklin Parish vs. OCS (5 p.m. Friday)
Franklin Parish will make its Bayou Jamb debut against an OCS squad that’s been present since the beginning. And though the Patriots are new to the event, Whitney McCartney was anything but shy in front of the cameras Tuesday morning.
“I’m very honored because not many schools can say they represent the entire parish,” McCartney said. “We’re the only high school in the parish… that counts. It’s going to be fun in church on Sunday morning. But no, it’s going to be a great honor to represent our parish and our people.”
McCartney was in a joking mood Tuesday, but he knows Friday’s contest will be no joking matter when the Patriots hook up with the Eagles.
“Ouachita Christian seems to be rejuvenated and rebuilt,” McCartney said. “I see them on film and they’re bigger than most of the 5A teams I’ve seen on film. They have a lot of talent.”
Fitzhugh joked that McCartney’s television screen was broken, as he hasn’t seen the size Franklin Parish’s headman alluded to. Fitzhugh looked forward to going against a 4A squad in this year’s event.
“Excited about the opportunity to go against Franklin Parish this weekend because what’s unique for us is we have guys that play both ways,” Fitzhugh said. “Going against a 4A school will help prepare us for down the road.”
Ouachita vs. Ruston (8 p.m. Thursday)
The headliner for Thursday’s portion of the Bayou Jamb will be none other than district foes Ruston and Ouachita. And usually when these two hook up, a last-minute, game-winning drive ensues.
“It’s always going to be a great matchup,” Ouachita Parish head coach Jeff Fitzgerald said. “I would like to say we look forward to it, but we really don’t look forward to it. We know what kind of team Coach Baugh always puts on the field. It will definitely be an entertaining game.”
Ruston head coach Jerrod Baugh acknowledged his team will start the season in rebuild mode, as the Bearcats look to replace 95 percent of last year’s offensive production.
“It’s going to be rough sledding for us early on,” Baugh said. “We have a rough schedule throughout the season, and that starts with Ouachita. Hopefully by the time we get to Week 10 against West Monroe, we’ll be ready to roll into the playoffs.”
Jena vs. Sterlington (6:30 p.m. Thursday)
Two teams that are always jockeying for Top 10 position in Class 3A will clash before Ruston and Ouachita, as Jena and Sterlington figures to be a clash of the titans in the trenches.
Sterlington head coach Lee Doty knows his Panthers will have to be physical against Jena in the trenches.
“Looking forward to playing Jena this Thursday night,” Doty said. “Those dudes are big. I don’t think we’ll play a bigger team this season unless it’s Oak Grove. They look really good on film. It’s going to be a great challenge for us.”
Jena head coach Jay Roark tipped his cap to what Sterlington has accomplished in the two years since moving up to Class 3A but also took a couple playful shots at a colleague.
“I look over here and the guy coming up later on is my lifelong best fried, Whitney McCartney,” Roark said. “I threatened I had a slideshow prepared of him if he gets up here and says something.”
Jonesboro-Hodge vs. St. Frederick (5 p.m. Thursday)
Kicking off the event Thursday evening will be a St. Frederick team looking to build off of last year’s 9-3 record against an always talented Jonesboro-Hodge squad.
“To me, there’s good news,” St. Frederick head coach Andy Robinson said. “Joey Pender isn’t on those sidelines for Jonesboro. The bad news is they are still Jonesboro. They have really good athletes. Good team speed.”
While still talented, the Tigers will need to replace skill players in the backfield that were a major part of Jonesboro-Hodge’s recent success.
“My quarterback graduated. He’s playing defensive back at Grambling,” Jonesboro-Hodge head coach Terrance Blakenship said. “I do what most people do. I put our best athlete at wide receiver and stick him at quarterback. We’ll see how that works out. Maybe Coach Robinson won’t beat us up too bad.”
Ouachita’s McHenry and West Monroe’s Easterling will each be honored at the 2019 Bayou Jamb for their dedication to high school football for multiple decades.
McHenry’s acclaimed career spanned 50 years as a coach and athletic director and impacted many lives along the way, including Fitzgerald’s.
“Coach McHenry has always been one of my mentors,” Fitzgerald said. “I get emotional when I talk about him. He’s had one of the biggest impacts on my life, not only as a coach but as a man. There’s not a finer man around that I’ve worked with in my life. He’s been a father figure to me. Coach Easterling has always been a guy I look up to. I never played for or coached with him, but he’s always been a man of high character. As a coach you always want to resemble a man like that.”
Arledge stated that Easterling spent his last 33 years working in the weight room, ordering equipment and issuing all the gear to players, along with washing clothes and mowing grass.
It’s that dedication that has earned Easterling the reputation he has at West Monroe.
“I’d like to let these coaches know that I hope I get to touch as many kids as what they’ve had the opportunity to do in their career,” Baugh said. “They’re well known in this area and all over the place. I hope I’m able to be spoken of as highly as these guys are.”