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7-in-Seven Countdown: Top surprise teams in 2021

Published: Jul. 19, 2021 at 6:41 PM CDT|Updated: Jul. 26, 2021 at 2:22 PM CDT
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SOUTHWEST LOUISIANA (KPLC) - We are just three 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. The only criteria for teams selected is that they must have had a losing record the season before.

7. Sulphur Golden Tors (2-3 in 2020)

The Golden Tors open the list after being named as the No. 1 surprise team of 2020. While Sulphur did technically double its win total a season ago, only playing five games led to Sulphur falling short of the hype I placed upon it. With that being said, the Tors will have a full slate to showcase their improvement in head coach Chris Towery’s second season.

While Sulphur only returns nine starters, six of them come from the defensive side of the ball. The Tors’ 4-2-5 defense will be anchored behind a pair of experienced linebackers in Corey Hyatt and Dillion Bird. Hyatt is a wrestling state champion and possesses 4.7 speed while Bird’s understanding of the linebacker spot is an asset for the unit. George Buoni is expected to figure into the mix as well. Elsewhere in the front seven, Keagan Trimm and Kylan Kelly are back as starters across the defensive line. The secondary sees starting experience returning as well with cornerbacks Greyson Stelly and Tyler Massey back after both led the Tors a year ago in passes deflected with seven. Kohl Navarre, Garrison Burgess and Peyton LeMaire are expected to contribute at safety.

The Sulphur offense will see many new faces in its spread system. The Tors will be led by their Taysom Hill-esque playmaker Tag Stelly after he led the Tors in rushing a season ago with 243 yards and three scores. Stelly will be one of two quarterbacks expected to play considerable minutes alongside Gage Trahan who threw a touchdown vs. North Vermilion last season. The quarterbacks will be joined in the backfield by running backs Jackson Serice, Elijha Brady and Demarcus Williams. Sulphur’s receiving corps will rely on the big bodies of tight ends Kaleb Vizier and John David Lafleur. Vizier, a senior, caught a touchdown a season ago and look to use his 6′5 frame to cause matchup problems for defenses. At wideout, Jonathan Hopkins Jr, Ashton Alston and Kaden Blalock will lead an inexperienced unit. The offensive line is nearly as new as the unit replaces four starters. Dawson Lebrun is back to lead the unit along with Kyle Thibodeaux, Emanuel Brady and Layne Ackel.The Tors come into the season hoping to put a tumultuous 2020 season behind them and one again at least double their win total.

6. East Beauregard Trojans (3-5 in 2020)

The next team on the list hails from Class 1A. The East Beauregard Trojans make the surprise teams list for the first time since its inception in 2017.

Of course, the Trojans return their double-wing offense although only three starters are back from a season ago. Wingback Kane Atkinson will look to lead the team in rushing along with fullback Gage Hildreth. Both backs were key contributors a season ago combining for nearly 1,000 yards. Jordan Plumley will also see his role expand as a wing-back. At quarterback, the Trojans will have a camp battle between junior Isaac Humphreys and sophomore Caleb Johnson, the latter of which will be moved around the offense as a tight end and receiver if he’s not taking the snaps. The Trojan offensive line will be a strength as well as four of the five starters come into the year weighing at least 225 pounds.

Defensively, East Beauregard will see five starters back for its 4-2-5 defense. Sean Guillory and Kaden Lee are both back to anchor the defensive line with their size of over 200 pounds. The Trojan secondary will also be experienced thanks to returning talent like Skyler Bebee, Caleb Johnson, Jordan Plumley and Freddy Beall. Beall is considered the quarterback of the defense which should pair nicely at the safety position with Plumley’s aggressive play at rover.

The Trojans’ game plan this season will be its usual— long offensive drives and key defensive stops. A more favorable schedule and the third season under Ronnie Simmons should see the Trojans factor into a loaded district race.

5. DeQuincy Tigers (2-3 in 2020)

Another entry and another first-time appearance as the DeQuincy Tigers slot it at No. 5 following a 2-3 season in which they missed out on the playoffs for just the first time since 2012. While the Tigers lost 20 seniors off last year’s team, a solid number of starters are back.

Much of the Tigers’ confidence comes from their offensive switch at the end of the 2020 season. DeQuincy moved to a split-back offense for their final two games, both of which resulted in wins. Five starters return including quarterback Reese Ashworth who started one of those two games. He moved from wide receiver last season so his experience, athleticism and arm talent will help move this offense. He’s joined in the backfield by returning starters Tajae Ceasar and Hudson Snyder. Ceasar brings size and shiftiness to the position while Snyder will use his speed on sweeps. Eathan Guidry will also be relied on after leading the DeQuincy spring game in rushing. Wide receiver Gavin Gary and tight end Chris Simmons will lead the receiving corps.

The Tigers defense only brings back four starters for their 4-3 defense but the coaching staff is confident in the front seven’s ability to swarm the ball carrier. That change on defense begins with linebacker Eathan Guidry. He is recognized as the team’s defensive MVP after leading the Tigers in tackles this spring. Joining Guidry is another returning starter in Hudson Snyder, who is a strong blitzer. In addition, Chris Simmons, Dacorius Griffin and Zachery Chambers round out the defensive line. The secondary will see plenty of new faces with Gavin Gary as a mainstay at safety.

The Tigers will look to get back into the district race this season as DeQuincy is hoping a revamped offensive attack and competitive schedule does just that.

4. DeRidder Dragons (3-4 in 2020)

DeRidder makes a return to the surprise team list after a three-win season. The Dragons were coming off three consecutive winning seasons prior to 2020 so the experience is there to bounce back this season.

The offense will shift back to a two-back power run game with a run-first mentality, but a plan to stay balanced. The Dragons only see three starters return on offense with each of them coming on the line. Jesse Williams, Adam Stracener and tight end Ryker Stewart are back to anchor the offensive line. They’ll be tasked with blocking a run game that includes backs Alex Archield and Ronnie Crosby. At quarterback, Ethan Maples is set for his chance to run the offense after waiting in the wings for two seasons. The game manager brings size and good decision-making to the position. As for his receivers, the Dragons will depend on a number of two-way players like Ethan Duplechien, Bryant Hammond and Frederick Harriel.

The biggest hit for the Dragons comes on defense after losing a strong senior class on the defensive line. However, four Dragon starters from 2020 return like linebacker Kagen Jacobs, cornerback Ethan Duplechien and safety Kaleb Luttrell. The backend of the defense will be the team’s strength due to that experience. Kenias St.Romain at safety, Nathan Mayers-Harris at cornerback and Braylon Bailey at linebacker are expected to be starters as well. With no returning experience on the defensive line, Elijah Lewis and Amari January will aim to lead the group.

The Dragons are always known for a solid defense and running game under Brad Parmley and the pieces look to be in place once again for the Dragons to get back to their winning ways.

3. Iota Bulldogs (3-4 in 2020)

The Iota Bulldogs slide in at the three spot as the Dogs come off an injury-riddled year that saw them post a losing season for the first time since 2016. From 2017-19, Iota went 31-7 and this group is confident they can get back to that level this season.

That confidence starts on offense as Iota welcomes back nine starters into its multiple spread offense that averaged nearly 30 points per game in the regular season. Quarterback Dawson Wallace is a three-year starter and he returns after throwing for over 900 yards and 11 touchdowns a season ago. His running ability is also a strength as he scored seven rushing scores last year. He is joined in the backfield by Tyler Charlot and Daylon Lunson. Lunson converted to running back late last season and rushed for 409 yards and three touchdowns in two games.

Yet another offensive strength for the Dogs comes in the passing game at receiver. Iota’s Owen Harmon is a mismatch for opposing defenses as evident by his eight touchdowns a season ago. Connor Daigle also returns along with another big receiver in Seth Guillory and inside receiver Braydon Lavergne. Those skill positions will be protected by what is considered the best Iota offensive line in a number of years. Nick Hebert, Diego DeSoto, Ashton Breaux and Hanz LaCasse anchor a deep unit.

While the Iota defense doesn’t return as much as their counterpart, the Bulldog defense will be experienced with six starters back. That experience starts with linebackers Dayton Boone and Seth Shuff, both are the leaders of the defense. At defensive back, Luke Duhon is back after recording six 6 interceptions and Payton Daigle returns as a starter too. A deep defensive line will see Ty Regan, Wyatt Gobert, Carson Crochet, Jackson Aton and Draper Pillette expected to contribute.

The Dogs have a competitive schedule, but Iota should show just how loud its bark is this season.

2. Welsh Greyhounds (1-7 in 2020)

The Greyhounds of Welsh coming running back to the list after a 1-7 showing in the COVID season. The Hounds battled with a stout schedule as their opponents were a combined 51-32 last season.

Despite the lackluster win-loss total, the Hounds were just four points away from a first-round upset for the second-straight season, losing 6-3 to No. 5 North Caddo. Welsh returns 12 total starts from that team that is eyeing to take the next step in Cody Gueringer’s third season as head coach.

The wealth of the Hounds’ experience comes on the offensive end as Welsh brings back nine starters led by a strong offensive line. The trio of Rhett Davis, Alec Johnson and Tanner Lopez will anchor a line that is fundamentally strong. As for the system, quarterback Gabe Gillet will help bring the spread offense back to Welsh. The dual-sport athlete brings speed and a good arm to the position. Joining him in the backfield will be seniors Mason Jordan and Cohen Fontenot and junior Kennon LeGros. Fontenot led the team in rushing a season ago with 196 yards on 41 carries. Grant Daigle makes the move from quarterback to H-back this season and will be the glue guy. At receiver, the Hounds will depend on Caleb Miller, Jonathon Begnaud and Jeremiah Bouley to put up big numbers in the receiving game.

On defense, the Hounds are nowhere near as experienced with just three starters back. The secondary will look to lead Welsh’s 4-2-5 defense as Cale Navarre, J.J. Artis and Koen LeBlanc all return as defensive backs.

With a more favorable schedule in tow, Welsh’s aim will be to return to a more explosive offense this season and pair that with a hard-nosed defense that will allow the Hounds to post their first winning season since 2018.

1. Westlake Rams (0-4 in 2020)

The final team on our list is another repeat member from a year ago in the Westlake Rams. Westlake took a step back a season ago, but another full offseason under John Richardson should help the Rams right the ship in 2021.

The Rams welcome back six starters on offense including quarterback Jamaal Guillory. Richardson compared Guillory’s progression this offseason to former Vinton signal-caller Ryan Burns who Richardson coached 16 years ago. Guillory has worked on his throwing this offseason and thus, has developed a passing game to compliment his athletic ability. Running back Brandon Jupiter saw some playing time last year and will contribute in the running game. The Westlake passing game will look to take a step forward with receivers Tristan Goodly, Gavin Robertson and Jace Dawson leading an explosive unit. The offensive line should be a strength as well.

On defense, the Ram’s 4-3 scheme has six starters back as well. That includes three starters back on the defensive line in Alex Sims, Gavin Carlin and Aidan LaFrere. Linebacker Ethan Koonce also returns to the starting lineup along with Kristian Ozane and Christian Johnwell in the secondary. Ozane and Johnwell should prove to be leaders on the backend which is considered to be the best secondary Westlake has sent out in a number of seasons.

The Rams will have a tough task to reach the top of the district with the likes of Jennings and LCCP expected to have big seasons, but the Rams should still be a tough out every Friday and thus, the wins should follow.

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