7-in-Seven Countdown: Top surprise teams in 2020

7-in-Seven Countdown: Top surprise teams in 2020

SOUTHWEST LOUISIANA (KPLC) - We are just four weeks away from KPLC’s planned coverage of Two-A-Days (this is obviously subject to change) 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. The only criteria for teams selected is that they must have had a losing record the season before.

7. Iowa Yellow Jackets (4-6 in 2019)

7. Iowa Yellow Jackets (4-6 in 2019)

We open the list with a repeat performer from a year ago in the Iowa Yellow Jackets. The Jackets improved from 2-7 in 2018 to 4-6 a year ago and I think another step forward is in the works for the Jackets.

Injuries plagued Iowa in the 2019 preseason as the team lost multiple starters to season-ending injuries before the season even began. That coupled with an inexperienced offense to begin with is what kept the Jackets under the .500 threshold.

The good news for Iowa is offensive experience is on their side this season. Iowa will employ a one-back offense, although the team will move away from a shotgun-based system. The Jackets return 11 players with starting experience led by quarterback Gene Natali. Natali played well in his first season as a starter as he threw for over 1,700 yards and 17 touchdowns. He had surgery in the offseason but should be ready to go. He'll have help in the backfield as three-year starter Tyrone Brass returns as the main option. The receiving corps may be the strength of the team with Curtis Deville (687 yards, 9 TD), Cade Labruyere and TJ Cormier back after heavily contributing a season ago. Cejae Ceasar will also figure into the mix. The offensive line returns plenty of experience too with the likes of Tucker Fontenot, Ronny LaFleur, Erik Johnson and Jacob Kershaw manning the line.

On the defensive side, Iowa took a step back a year ago after a strong 2018. The Jackets' 4-2-5 defense brings back only five starters although a strong secondary could be key in a tough district. The defensive backfield is known for its speed and is led by safety Cejae Ceasar. The UL Lafayette commit totaled five turnovers last year while picking up 34 tackles. Brycen LeBlanc will man the other safety spot and Crajaun Bennett will play cornerback with the other corner spot up for grabs. The front six has plenty to replace although Ross Denison will play linebacker after getting snaps there a year ago. Cormier figures to be involved there as well. The defensive line will be anchored by Ethan Welcome and Keegan Bertrand.

Iowa has to compete in a tough district with the likes of LCCP, Jennings and St. Louis, but the Jackets feel as though they are ready after the losses they’ve taken the past two seasons.

6. Welsh Greyhounds (3-9 in 2019)

6. Welsh Greyhounds (3-9 in 2019)

It's a surprise to see the Welsh Greyhounds on the list considering the program is only a year removed from its second-straight trip to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Although losing a large senior class and dealing with major injuries lends itself to a less than stellar season. Despite only two wins in the regular season, the Hounds still managed a playoff win

Welsh now will make changes to ensure the winning tradition remains. The biggest change this season is the Hounds' switch to a double slot triple-option offense. Welsh's change to a "Kinder-style" flexbone offense should allow the Hounds more consistency with their personnel.

The Greyhound offense welcomes back five starters from last season with a bulk of the experience coming from the skill positions. Running back Jaheim Simon was primed for a breakout season before he suffered an ACL injury in the jamboree. Simon rushed for nearly 1,200 yards as a sophomore in 2018. Joining Simon in the backfield is returning starter Ethan Theriot (475 yards, 3 TD) and sophomores Kennan Legros and Gabe Gillett. Austin Van Ness will enter as the frontrunner to win the quarterback position but Gillett and Grant Daigle will get their shot to win the job in camp. While the offense will not be pass-heavy, seniors Will Green and Lincoln Wild will be counted on to make plays down the field. The offense line sees Rhett Davis and Gavin Richard back while Brady Hall, Jordan Pelsia and Trent Lopez look to stand out in their first year starting.

Ronnie Courville will take over the defensive calls as coordinator as he'll continue to run the Hounds' 4-2-5 base defense. Welsh brings back five starters on defense with Rhett Davis and Gavin Richard once again leading the way on the line after the pair combined for nearly 90 tackles a season ago. The Hounds will rotate its lineman although the other linemen come in inexperienced. While linebackers Cole LaBouve and Kade Miller enter their first year starting too, both are physical and tough backers that will be relied upon to led the defense. The strength of the defense lies in the secondary. Safety Ethan Theriot will be expected to line up all over the defense as cornerbacks Will Green and Lincoln Wild lock down the outside. Koen LeBlanc and Grant Daigle will be contributors at safety as well.

The Hounds overall don’t have much starting experience, but the Welsh players are hungry to prove themselves and get the program back to its winning ways.

5. Elton Indians (0-10 in 2019)

5. Elton Indians (0-10 in 2019)

The Elton Indians are in at No. 5 following their first winless season since the 2007 season. The Indians lose a 13-man senior class, but the Elton coaching staff is encouraged by the young talent on the team.

The Indian offense will look a little different this year as the team shifts to the Wing-T. The Indians are hoping their veer attack will give opponents fits. Like all local teams, not having spring practices hurt Elton in terms of knowing who its starters will be. The Indians will enter the fall unsure about the quarterback position, although junior Maddox Pierrotti will get the first reps for the job. The Indians are a lot more confident in who will be carrying the football this season as Bryce Laughlin, Sherman Bellow and Darnell James will be getting the bulk of carries. The Indians receiving corps will be made up of basketball-based two-sport athletes Jadon Ross and Xavier Ceasar. While the skill positions should be the strength for the Elton offense, the offensive line is the team's biggest question mark. The Indians possess good size (all but one expected starter weighs over 200 pounds) although there isn't much experience. Dwight Robinson, Justin Bellard, Elijah Poullard, Cayl Doise and Zane LeJeune will anchor the line.

The Indians will also see a scheme change on defense as they transition to the 4-2-5. Elton brings back four starters on defense with the back seven expected to be the strength. Doise and Horace Edwards will man the linebacking corps. Edwards started every game as a freshman a year ago and despite his smaller frame, his toughness stands out. In the defensive backfield, Bellow, James and Ross will play both ways with Dahntay Robinson manning a safety spot. Laughlin will be the rover and expected to lead the defense. The defensive line will also have size as the offensive line moves over to also play both ways.

The Indians can go nowhere else but up following an 0-10 season. Elton had a chance to win a few games a year ago and the team is aiming to build back up by turning those games into their favor.

4. Pickering Red Devils (3-7 in 2019)

4. Pickering Red Devils (3-7 in 2019)

The Red Devils of Pickering may finally be ready for a breakout season after suffering through winning just one district game in the past three seasons. Pickering has stability at head coach and a team that features plenty of speed.

Nowhere will the Red Devils' athleticism stand out more than the team's spread offense. Quarterback Marlon Freeney is back after starting the last four games of the season a year ago as a freshman. Freeney's skill set lies in his running ability and strong arm. Evan Fernandez is back as well after totaling over 730 all-purpose yards and five touchdowns a year ago and will split time at receiver and running back with Deon Street. Offensive line depth will have to be figured out but Pickering is confident in Cameron Blackwell and Kaden O'Banion to lead the way.

The Red Devil defense will be experienced as they welcome back seven starters with the defensive backfield leading the way. The Red Devils' speed will be showcased with safeties Fernandez and Landon Hoskins. Street and Chris Wooten will start alongside them at cornerback. Second-team all-district linebacker Savion Adams will start again at linebacker as his aggressive play will be needed for Pickering's resurgence. The Red Devils' defensive line meanwhile will have good size with the likes of Joshua Shackelford, Daniel Stier and Zachary Mayberry leading the way.

Pickering will come into 2020 with high expectations after a disappointing 2019. The Red Devils could be a team to watch but they’ll have to stay healthy to be at their best.

3. Westlake Rams (3-6 in 2019)

3. Westlake Rams (3-6 in 2019)

The Westlake Rams make the list in back-to-back seasons following a 3-6 year. The Rams were a better team than their record states a year ago. Westlake lost three of its games by just a single score and none of its losses were by more than 15 points.

Offensively, Westlake has plenty to replace losing a pair of 1,000-yard rushers in J.J. Ross and Jasia Simien. Only four Ram starters are back from last season, but Westlake will be changing schemes as they move towards the spread offense coach John Richardson ran at Welsh. Jamaal Guillory will transition from wide receiver to quarterback this season as the team aims to use his speed and intelligence to run the offense. The Rams expect to split carries at running back with Jarrod Manuel, Payton Domanick and Ethan Koonce. The receiving corp meanwhile will be anchored by Cullen Hamilton, Tristan Goodly, Gavin Robertson and Christian Johnwell. The Rams' line will only feature a pair of returning starters in Payton Elliot and Jackson Hardesty with the rest battling it out in the fall.

The Westlake defense has much more experience with six starters back including three of them on the line. Eli Goss is the anchor on the line and has a Division I college future ahead of him with offers from the likes of ULM, McNeese and Northwestern State. His size and strength should aid Dominick Sanchez and Hayden Verrett in making big plays. Linebacker is also experienced heavy with all-district performer Cory Pryor back in addition to Caleb Marsh and Netra Lim. The secondary will see Noah Young and Dylan Perkins man the safety positions with Gavin Robertson and Kristian Ozane holding down the corners.

Head coach John Richardson enters his second season as coach and he said he’s seen a change in mentality and expectations. Westlake is hoping the experience in close games a year ago helps them flip the switch this season.

2. Washington-Marion Charging Indians (1-9 in 2019)

7-in-Seven Countdown: Top surprise teams in 2020

Washington-Marion charges into the list at the two-spot following a 1-9 season in the school's return to Class 4A. First-year head coach Toriano Williams and his team took their lumps a season ago, but the program is looking at better days in front.

While the offense doesn't return many starters (four), many were able to see extensive playing time a year ago. Devin Williams is back at quarterback after throwing for nearly 1,400 yards and nine touchdowns in 2019 and his experience should lend to improved play. Williams has spent the offense working on the mental aspect of the position. The running back position will be done by a committee with Josiah Porter expected to be the leading rusher. The Washington-Marion receiving corps will look a lot different this season with the loss of Williams Carswell. The Charging Indians will rely on a combo young wideouts to share the football. The offensive line will be young as well with many of the spots being earned in fall camp.

The Charging Indian defense welcomes back six starters from a year ago with numerous expected to play on both sides of the football. The defense struggled last year giving up an average of 43 points per game. The defense will come into 2020 with a chip on their shoulder to improve that number drastically. The core of the unit comes at linebacker with the return of Ezra Porter, Micah King and Landon Aaron. The line meanwhile will see Jyron Harper, Charles Jack, Jakobe Gipson and Zechariah LeDay play a key role aiming to improve on technique. The defensive backfield is similar to receiver in that a lot of the position battles won't be decided until camp. That being said, Devin Williams will go both ways and play some safety.

The Washington-Marion program has booming expectations for 2020 with the team having a better understanding of Williams’ schemes and being more comfortable with him. The Charging Indians were a few scores away from winning more games a year ago and they should improve on that this upcoming season.

1. Sulphur Golden Tors (1-9 in 2019)

1. Sulphur Golden Tors (1-9 in 2019)

Sulphur being on this list shouldn't come as a surprise as the 5A program has shown to be a consistent one in recent history. Last year's 1-9 campaign was the worst season for the Tors since 1994. The program aims to turn that record around with the hiring of head coach Chris Towery. The former JUCO coordinator also has spent time on staff at Division I programs like Houston and UL Lafayette, in addition to being a head coach at Winnfield, Cecilia and Abbeville.

The Tors return 12 starters so experience shouldn't be a problem for Towery in year one.

The Tors aim to have a formation-heavy pro-style offense centered around 11 personnel. Sulphur returns 2019 starter, Jacob Clark, at quarterback but the Tors will have a four-way battle with Tag Stelly, Brock Welch and Gage Trahan also competing for the starting position. Sulphur's strength this year may lie in its receiving corps as 6'4 wideout Gavin Elliot is back after a 700-yard and nine-touchdown season. In addition to Elliot, Brayden Walker and Jack Buoni are back and Stelly will fit into the puzzle if he doesn't win the QB job. Kaleb Vizier will also be relied on and is expected to follow the mold of previous Sulphur tight ends like Christian Trahan, Hayden Hagler and Jake LaFleur. At running back, the duo of DJ Harris and Dylan McFarland will carry the load. Up front on the offensive line, the Tors are well-sized but have to develop depth. Sulphur expects to get big minutes from Zayn Bryant, Cannon Trosclair, Jordan Kelly, Dawson LeBrun, Caleb Harris and Albert Allen.

On defense, Towery is handing the reins to Sulphur alum David Trahan. Trahan comes over from St. Louis and plans to implement the 4-2-5 defense. The defensive line is expected to be a good group with Ridge Marcantel leading the way. Behind the line, the linebacking corps will feature the likes of Dylan McFarlain and Trey Penigar. The defensive backfield will be young with Tyler Massey and Elijha Brady expected to contribute with senior Daniel Burton will play there as well.

Sulphur lost by three or fewer points in five games a season ago. Towery and company believe that won’t be the case as he said the team is buying into the process and he loves the attitude of the players.

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