2019 record: 5-6

Quote of the Summer: “We knew we were young and inexperienced, but these guys got better every week. We took it on the chin early in that officials scrimmage and then the jamboree. Took it on the chin quite a bit. But we started gaining confidence. We continued to grind to get better. No quit in this ball club. We were duking it out with the No. 2 team in the district at the end of the season. Our guys fought hard to the end.” — Jeff Fitzgerald, Ouachita head coach

Overview: Night and day. That’s what comes to mind when you look at Ouachita in 2019 and compare it to the 2020 club.

Heck, a transformation took place midseason last year, when Ouachita slugged it out with Neville for four quarter before the Lions beat a Bastrop team that dominated the Lions in an officials scrimmage two months prior.

 “They were shaking their heads like who is this team,” said Fitzgerald after Ouachita’s 35-26 victory.

Ouachita has an opportunity to make the same gains in 2020, as an inexperienced, young club now returns several starters on both sides of the ball.

Because of that, teams are now looking at Ouachita as a potential dark horse in the district…

Offense: You’ll have to search far and wide across the state to find a quarterback with as much experience as senior Zach Shaw. After being thrust into a starter position as a freshman, Shaw is coming off of back-to-back seasons as the Lions full-time starter.

Shaw completed 124-of-221 passes for 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in his junior campaign, and his favorite targets D.J. Jacobs, Jacolby Conner and Brandon Kimes return after putting teams on notice a season ago. Jacobs and Conner combined for 57 catches and seven touchdowns as juniors a season ago.

“We’re really excited about having a senior-laden team,” Fitzgerald said. “All three of those guys were highly effective in the passing game last year.”

While much is expected out of Ouachita’s passing game this fall, the rush attack will look much different than it did a year ago.

Chaunzavia Lewis graduated after rushing for 1,275 yards in 2019, but senior bulldozer Boris Richard will step in after gaining some experience at the position last fall. Junior Marcell Henderson moved from safety to running back to add some depth to the position. Fitzgerald said Henderson would add some of that explosiveness that Lewis brought to the Lions’ backfield last year.

Up front remains a bit of a mystery. The Lions were in good shape with returning starters before the pandemic changed that. Now Ouachita enters this season with only two returning starters in senior Ben Pipes and junior Roy Mullins. Zahir Muhammad will be competing at tackle, while Thai Hayes, Kylan Jackson, Noah Miller and Chris Pleasant will vie for starting jobs along the line.

Defense: The bad news for Ouachita fans is that tackling machine Carl Glass is no longer hunting down the opposition in a Lion uniform. Glass led the team with 169 tackles last season to go along with his four forced fumbles and one interception.

The good news, however, is that a member of the Glass family remains on the roster, as Carmycah Glass had his breakout year as a sophomore in 2019. The younger Glass accounted for 75 tackles, two interceptions and two fumble recoveries. Like his brother, he scored two defensive touchdowns last season.

“A Glass was making the tackle constantly last season,” Fitzgerald said. “They accounted for 2/3 of the tackles on defense.”

Senior Cayle Wheeler was in on a lot of plays for the Lions last fall, as well. Glass and Wheeler give Ouachita a nice one-two punch at linebacker, while a slew of experienced linemen make up Ouachita’s defensive front.

Seniors Eric Pleasant, Devin Gix and Jammie Ginn each gained valuable playing time as defensive tackles a season ago, while seniors Cody Wooley and Troy Owens got after the quarterback as pass rushers. Noah Miller played some as a freshman last year.

On the backend, Jaylen Kincaid is virtually the Zach Shaw of the defense. Kincaid stepped in as a freshman and recorded a team-high six interceptions as a sophomore last year.

“He’ll play some offense, as well,” Fitzgerald said. “We’re expecting him to play multiple positions. He’s one of the most talented players on the team. He and D.J. (Jacobs) could return kicks for us too.”

Kincaid will be surrounded by a combination of senior Deon Hudson, junior Keyontae Blunt and Deon Hudson in the secondary.

District outlook: Every team in District 2-5A is chasing West Monroe after the Rebels have endured 17 seasons without suffering a single loss in district play. Naturally, the Rebels will get the nod as the favorites until a team knocks West Monroe off of its perch. Some are looking at Alexandria Senior High as the most equipped team to do so, while Ruston touts a 4-star running back in Ke’Travion Hargrove who is sure to carry the Bearcats to many wins this season. Where does Ouachita fit into the picture?

The Lions are the dark horse. Many are overlooking the Lions in district play, but a strong collection of talent and experience could make for a memorable year for the Lions. The district slate will be as brutal as any in the state, but Ouachita figures to stand toe-for-toe with the goliaths in Class 5A in 2020.

Award-winning sports writer for columns and features since joining the field in 2013. As the first-ever featured columnist of the month at Bleacher Report, Martin cut his teeth with online media before joining the newspaper business in 2014.

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