The annual jamboree at ULM’s Malone Stadium may be borderline indistinguishable from the other jamborees that have preceded it on paper, but the storylines surrounding the event are plentiful.
Yes, this year’s event features similar, exciting matchups, and like last year will be played over the course of two days.
One main difference, however, is that the event will begin Thursday and conclude on Friday with three matchups on each evening. The following is the schedule for the Bayou Jamb 2019:
— 5 p.m. Jonesboro Hodge vs. St. Frederick
— 6:30 p.m. Jena vs. Sterlington
— 8 p.m. Ruston vs. Ouachita
— 5 p.m. Franklin Parish vs. OCS
— 6:30 p.m. Oak Grove vs. Mangham
— 8 p.m. West Monroe vs. Neville
Though we’ve seen matchups such as Ruston vs. Ouachita and West Monroe vs. Neville for multiple years now, all four teams are in a different position heading into this year’s event. Some are primed and ready to snatch state titles, while others have more questions to answer than a season ago.
Time to take the power back?
The high schools in the southern portion of the state have enjoyed success in the Superdome year after year over the last decade. Edna Karr’s dynasty is at it’s peak in Class 4A, and those pesky Zachary Broncos continue to be a thorn in West Monroe’s side in Class 5A. (Zachary ended West Monroe’s season in the postseason twice and has claimed the 5A title in back-to-back seasons.)
In a familiar matchup between West Monroe and Neville, we’ll see two teams clash that I fully believe will vie for a state title this year. You might think that’s a given considering the tradition of both schools. If you were honest about Neville’s chances last year, you’d know the Tigers were a year away from truly challenging Karr’s reign.
West Monroe has reloaded at running back and on the defensive line, while Neville has rebuilt its offensive line. By the looks of preseason scrimmages, both teams look to be at near championship level heading into the 2019 season. Which team will continue to shine Friday night?
Who has the head start in rebuilding?
The belief heading into the season is that if any team is going to challenge West Monroe in district it’s Alexandria. The Trojans have some of the best athletes in the state — two of the Top 13 players in the 2020 class rankings hail from ASH — and many feel this is the year they challenge the Rebels. Behind West Monroe and ASH are Ouachita and Ruston, who are jockeying for position in the district.
Ouachita will have a size disadvantage in Class 5A in 2019, while Ruston looks to replace big-time offensive playmakers like quarterback Eric Outley. Which team is further along in filling the holes the graduated 2019 class left?
Fly Eagles fly
Steven Fitzhugh is a man on fire. Being the competitor he is, he can hardly stomach all the single-digit losses his Ouachita Christian Eagles suffered a year ago. Now with continuity on defense returning and offensive skill players across the board, including Will Fitzhugh who can do it all, the Eagles should be one of the state title championship contenders in 2019. That’s more than Franklin Parish can say, as the Patriots begin life without L.T. Major as the team’s signal-caller. It might be a mismatch in terms of classifications (Class 4A vs. District IV), but the Eagles are primed to put on a show in Malone Stadium.
Bumps and bruises
Perhaps no team has had worse luck than the Sterlington Panthers this offseason.
For one reason or another, the Panthers have lost three defensive players over the summer.
If you’re a fan of the Panthers, you want to see your squad perform well against a proud Jena squad, but you also want to see Sterlington exit the scrimmage without any further injuries.
How to train a Dragon
New coach. New scheme. New Mangham.
The Tommy Tharp era is officially over, and the Scott Wilcher era begins with a team full of sophomores and juniors looking for better fortune in 2019. The Dragons made return trips to the Superdome back in the early 2010s, but the last three years, Mangham has a record of 15-17. That simply doesn’t cut it at Mangham.
Last year in the jamboree, the Dragons used up most of the half with one long drive with their patented Dragon Wing. Given the Dragons are looking to spread it out a bit more, history shouldn’t be repeating itself in Malone Stadium.
Target on their back
St. Frederick is now the hunted.
Last year’s jamboree had me and my colleagues reevaluate the ceiling for St. Frederick. The Warriors made one play after another against a Jonesboro-Hodge team that had a tremendous amount of hype heading into the 2018 season. Now it’s St. Frederick that has the buzz, and by the looks of this offseason, the Warriors are worthy of it.
With a deep and talented defensive line and returning offensive playmakers like Pat Johnson primed for another phenomenal year, it’ll be interesting to see how the Warriors handle that new bulls-eye on their back.