DeRidder, La. (KPLC) - In 2019, DeRidder made it all the way to the quarterfinals before losing to Neville. The team finished with an 8-4 overall record last season which marked the most wins for the school since 2013. The Dragons did lose some key talent from last year’s team to graduation, including first-team all-district running back Jaylen Thurman.
“We’ve got prospects at running back right now. It’s going to be by committee until we figure out who it is. It’s going to be a work in progress early on," said DeRidder head football coach Brad Parmley. "Just being able to have one scrimmage before you start playing ball games [is important]. Like I told the team, our goal is to be at our best when it matters most and right now we’re still figuring that out.”
One piece that doesn’t need to be figured out for the Dragons is quarterback. As senior signal-caller, KJ Gooden is expected to take his leadership role to the next level.
“Oh I’m ready. I got the experience last year and I’m ready for that role. I’m just going to go out and have fun,” said Gooden. "As far as leading this team, I’m always going to make sure everyone gets things done right and I’m going to get on certain players if I feel they can do better. I’ve been ready for this moment to take this leadership role.”
Gooden received his first college scholarship offer on Saturday when junior college Arkansas Baptist came calling.
“It’s great having a quarterback back. He’s a two-and-a-half-year starter because he started some as a sophomore. He’s a great kid. He’s the yes sir, no sir kid. He has the tools that you really can’t coach," said Parmley. "We’re excited for what he brings to the table. He’s a leader by example and the kids feed off of him and we’re excited to watch him play this year.”
Just 23 miles down the road, rival Leesville is preparing for 2020 season following a second-round playoff exit.
Like the Dragons, the Wampus Cats return strong players on offense, led by a senior quarterback. Jacob Mount is back once again and he’s joined by junior running back Caleb Gallashaw.
“You’re talking about a quarterback that has three years starting experience and a tailback starting his third year," Leesville head football coach Robert Causey said of his backfield. "It makes a difference when you go on Friday nights and you have guys at those positions that have the kind of experience that they have.”
Causey acknowledged that Mount and Gallashaw aren’t the only experienced players returning for this season. The Cats also have talent up front and the big men have already formed a bond with Mount.
“We’re looking to get a lot out of this season. We’re looking to win district and I believe we can go deep into the playoffs and have a chance at state," admitted Mount. "We have a great squad. We just have to execute and play hard every game.”
Both teams will have a scrimmage Thursday as Leesville will be at Jennings and DeRidder will host St. Louis.