We are just four weeks away from KPLC's coverage of Two-A-Days and to get ready we continue our 7-in-Seven countdown.
Countdowns will include topics from McNeese to high school football. A new countdown each week, beginning every Monday.
We continue the countdown with the top seven surprise teams this upcoming season.
7. Oakdale Warriors (3-8 in 2017)
We start off our list with the Warriors of Oakdale. The Warriors are the only repeat team on this last as five of the seven teams from a season ago went on to post more wins than the year before.
Oakdale is seven years removed from its last winning season, although the Warriors have posted multiple .500 seasons in between.
Oakdale brings back 12 starters, with seven of them coming from the offensive side of the ball. The Warriors have a pair of all-district players returning, including offensive lineman Aaron McDonald. The senior anchors the line with four total starters returning. Injuries hurt the Warriors last year, but the team is confident in quarterback Gabe Rodriguez and backs Javon Hayward, Hunter Longino, Brennan Taylor and Dottre Stevens to replace Miliak Hayward's 1,700 yards and 18 touchdowns. Receiver Jacob Black is back as well after a 300-yard three-touchdown season.
The Warriors' 3-4 defense also welcomes back a pair of all-district players led by leading tackler Hunter Longino (109 tackles, three sacks). Rodriguez (58 tackles) and Longino should be able to clean up at the second level, with McDaniel (6'3, 310 pounds) and Garret Kingan on the defensive line. The secondary lacks prior starts but has plenty of length with four of the expected starters coming in at least 6'0 tall. The Warriors love their depth and speed coming in.
The Warriors took a step back in 2017 by posting a three-win season. The Warriors hope to change that behind an experienced offense and deep defense.
6. Grand Lake (2-8 in 2017)
The Hornets of Grand Lake come in with some optimism after hiring South Beauregard's Mike Robinson as head coach. Robinson's strength and conditioning background should inject a new type of energy into a program that should be on the rise.
Grand Lake will install a pro-I offense and a smash-mouth mentality similar to what the Golden Knights ran during Robinson's time at South Beau. Jaren Sonnier and Kobe Taylor are expected to compete for the quarterback job this fall. The quarterback position will be aided by running back Kris Reina and fullback Aaron Young. While not a focal point of the offense, the wide receivers will still be expected to stretch out the defense and the Hornets are confident in the trio of Dru Bertrand,
Wyatt Benoit and Max Santa Maria to do just that. While undersized, the offensive moves well and plays above their strength.
Defensively, the Hornets will run the 4-2-5 and many of the same names from the offense will be expected to play iron man football. Santa Maria, Sonnier, Taylor and Levi Murrell will anchor the back-half of the defense. Ethan Williams will use his great motor to lead the linebackers.
Five of Grand Lake's losses last season came by nine points or fewer. Robinson is aiming to develop depth to keep the Hornets from being gassed late in games this season and give the Hornets their first-ever winning season.
5. DeQuincy Tigers (5-6 in 2017)
Back up to Class 2A we go for the DeQuincy Tigers. DeQuincy's record a season ago wasn't indicative to the talent level of the Tigers. Injuries and inexperience derailed a possible winning season last year, but DHS has high hopes for 2018.
The Tigers welcome back six starters on offense as Cooper Hext and Gunner Gearen are slated to battle for the starting quarterback position. Behind the starter, James Austin and Chas LeBlanc both return offseasons where the duos showed some flash. If Hext doesn't win the QB job, he'll return as the team's slot receiver. Corben Royer is also back after battling through sickness last season. While DeQuincy loses the entire left side of the offensive line, the team's right guard and tackle are back to provide experience.
Defensively, the Tigers are optimistic their defense will give teams trouble. Linebacker Nick Kelly is one of seven returning starters and is the heart and soul of the defense. Despite being undersized, he's a coach on the field and has speed and strength to spare. Charles Montgomery (6'1, 225 pounds) leads the defensive line and brings athleticism to the tackle position. The secondary brings a strong mix of youth and experience as three-year starter Blaise LeBlanc returns alongside safeties Chandler Taylor and Jacob Goodfriend.
Coming off a season where DeQuincy lost 15 seniors, the Tigers still posted five wins. This season, DeQuincy expects to win thanks to the depth and wealth of experience the young Tigers accumulated last season.
4. Sam Houston Broncos (4-6 in 2017)
The Sam Houston Broncos may be the most interesting team on the list as it seems there is a wind of optimism blowing in Moss Bluff. Coming off a 4-6 season, Sam Houston feels as though they are ready to take that next step.
On offense, the Broncos are expecting back four starters including quarterback Kyle Bartley. His development was hindered a season ago due to injuries, but his return should make a sizable impact on the offense. Sam Houston will also benefit from Washington-Marion transfer Gerron Duhon. The three-star running back/wide receiver made a splash in the spring and currently holds seven Division I offers. Bryan Soileau, Brennen LeBlanc and Marcus Mott join him as offensive weapons. While there is experience at the skill positions, the Broncos will have to replace all five offensive linemen from 2017, although the replacements have some experience from a year ago.
Defensively, Sam Houston should be improved as well with six starters back. The Broncos picked up another star transfer in Westlake linebacker Michael Harlow. Linebacker Mason Trahan and defensive linemen Jacob Humphery and Tre'lon Garrick round out the impact players in the front seven. Former Elton head coach Doyle Carter should also bring some knowledge as the team's defensive line coach. Sam Houston's 4-2-5 defense will rely a lot on the secondary and the Broncos are excited about the talent returning. The corners are expected to be faster and safeties Keagon Aaron and Colby Wiersema will be relied on.
In the second year of head coach Chad Paulk's spread system, the Broncos are hoping to keep piling up the points. With weapons like Duhon and Bartley, the Broncos should do just that.
3. Pickering Red Devils (0-10 in 2017)
Pickering comes in as the first winless team from 2017. Eddie Thomas took over a team that graduated arguably the best senior class in school history. The Red Devils stumbled out the gate and never recovered.
Thomas knew a change needed to be made on offense after averaging just under nine points a game last yea, so he promoted his son Gett to offensive coordinator. The Red Devils expect their offense to be more wide open as the team will use RPO's and a more new-age approach to the offense.
Pickering returns four starters on offense including quarterback Braden LeBato who should be a key factor for this offense. As a freshman last season, LeBato took his lumps and he should be stronger and quicker coming into year two. At running back, Greg Jones is penciled in as a contributor as well after being a late add to the roster in 2017. The offensive will be bigger as well as Trevor Mayberry is the lone senior on the line.
The defense returns six starters behind senior linebacker Jon Gregory. He's being eyed as the key to the Red Devil defense. After being a later transfer, Anthony Woods is also expected to contribute at linebacker. The secondary returns all its starters, led by Zion Barrett who is the glue that holds the team together.
While Pickering doesn't return a ton of experience, the Red Devils should be one of the area's most improved teams. If the offense is clicking, Pickering could steal a few wins this season.
2. South Beauregard Golden Knights (2-9 in 2017)
The Golden Knights like Pickering were also winless this past season after coming off a few strong years prior. But through last seasons' struggles comes a wealth of experience this year as South Beau brings back 15 starters.
On offense, the Golden Knights have nine starters returning as the team is aiming to get back to the offense similar to what the team ran during it's winning years. Colby Hollier will take over at quarterback where he aims to make an impact with his size and running ability. Jaydon DeRouen will also be asked to contribute at running back after a solid season in 2017. At receiver, the Knights are expecting to rotate in a handful of faces to keep the defense guessing. The strength of this unit will be upfront however as all five starters are back and are upperclassmen.
Six starters are back for a defense that allowed at least 31 points in seven games. The team will improve on that number as safety Jake Chisolm and nose guard Trey Jeffries (300 pounds) are expected to produce big numbers for this defense. The linebacking core will be young and overall the depth of the defense will be the biggest issue.
South Beauregard is hoping to get back to what worked for the Knights during the 2014-2016 seasons when they won 26 games to only nine losses. South Beau has a tall task to overcome but the experience and culture to do so.