Last year was a tough, bitter pill for East Ascension to swallow.
After a resurgent 2011, they came into last season with high expectations--looking to win the district and make another playoff run.
However, after four heart-breaking losses by a combined 19 points, they were forced to settle for a 4-6 record and early start to the offseason.
"I felt like the main thing was all the losses in close games. Any time it was at the end of the game and we were losing, we just couldn't quite do it," head coach Paul Bourgeois said. "We weren't able to overcome it. We just have to figure out a way to win those close games."
It wasn't just the losses; it was the way that the Spartans lost the games that was so gut-wrenching.
Against Denham Springs, there was a very questionable call that East Ascension fumbled on the 1-yard line when they were going in for a
Against Dutchtown, they were stopped at the 1-yard line once again on a goal-line stand by the Griffin defense that prevented them from scoring the winning TD. And against St. Amant, they reached the Gator 3-yard line but painfully ran out of time before they could punch in a game-winning score.
Such brutal losses could wreck a team's psyche, but Bourgeois thinks it will have the opposite affect on his squad.
"I think it will work in our favor this year," Bourgeois said. "Since we were there and we were so close to so many wins, that motivates them to get the job done this time around and to do whatever it takes to overcome those situations. I think they'll learn from it."
he Spartans certainly have the talent to eclipse what they did last year and prove that though they have been bent, they have not been broken. They return 12 starters--including recent LSU commit Sione Palelei at running back.
"He's a guy that you don't get a chance to coach very often. He has special ability, and he can do it all," Bourgeois said. "He's not just a great ball-carrier, but he can catch the ball out of the backfield so well, and he's an outstanding blocker, very physical. Im very happy to have him; he's the total package at running back."
Also returning to the backfield will be Layne Trahan at quarterback. Bourgeois thinks Trahan will make tremendous strides now with the year of experience under his belt.
"I always say that two years for a high school player almost completely changes the kid. The experience is just so important to him, and you just gradually get better and better," Bourgeois said. "And the quarterback position, it involves so much reading defenses and decision-making, and that experience helps improve that."
Page 2 of 2 - East Ascension loses explosive play-maker Michael Sparrow and tight end Devin Speligene, but they will bring back two speedy receivers in Chad Hill and Tyler Briley.
Defensively, they just might have the best linebacking core in the district.
"They have the opportunity to be very good. We have Deandre Darville coming back along with JaLon Watts," Bourgeois said. "We have our linebacking core returning, and that's so valuable to our defense. I'm excited about it. Our defensive line has some things to take care of, but I think we'll be good."
Though the defensive line may have holes after losing all-district player Devon Gipson, they will still get a big boost from senior Devin Simoneaux--who was also an All-District 5-5A performer last year.
The schedule will be tough as always for the Spartans. In addition to district matchups with Dutchtown, Catholic and St. Amant, they'll have non-district clashes with Plaquemine, Brother Martin and Lutcher.
Coach Bourgeois isn't about to make a prediction; he just wants his team to get back into the playoffs. Once there, anything can happen.
"We have such a tough schedule. I try not to put a record out there, but we want to make it to the playoffs," Bourgeois said. "Having just 10 games and then being done with the season, that gets boring. We want that excitement of being in the playoffs; it makes the season so much better."
The Spartans' rise to postseason asperations will begin with their fall scrimmage against South Lafourche and Riverdale at Riverdale on Aug. 23. And on Aug. 30, they will take on archrival St. Amant at home in their jamboree.