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Byrd seeks to continue football excellence with many new faces
July 5, 2016, 8:00 am

2016 Byrd Yellow Jackets Football Preview for SportsNOLA.com

For more SportsNOLA 2016 previews of Louisiana high school football teams, click here.

Byrd’s Mike Suggs has some of the biggest unknowns he’s ever faced entering his 19th season as the head coach of the Yellow Jackets. So many questions surround the 2016 Yellow Jackets that in the spring Suggs provided t-shirts for his charges with a giant purple question mark similar to that worn by The Riddler in the Batman comics.

Byrd hopes to continue the success of the previous three seasons in which the Yellow Jackets posted an impressive 33-5 record, which is the most wins in a three-year period in the 111-year history of Shreveport-Byrd football. However, the Jackets will have to overcome the loss of 10 starters on offense and 10 on defense as well as a punter and two kick returners. Couple those losses with a lack of experience and quality depth and thus the giant question mark hovering over this year’s team.

“This is the least experienced team we’ll have had in a long time,” said Suggs, who is the winningest coach in school history with a 137-66 record. “We’ll have to wait and see. They are working hard and I know we’ll be competitive. A big key for us is to stay healthy.”

Tackle Zach Ward (6-6, 250, SR) is the lone returning starter to an offense that averaged 326 yards and nearly 36 points per game, and had five first-team all-district performers. There will be a six-player battle in training camp for the remaining four offensive line spots.

Zavier Moore (5-9, 201, SR), who was a linebacker and backup quarterback in 2015, takes over at quarterback for Deuce Caston, who signed with the Arkansas-Monticello Boll Weevils in the spring. Moore, who is the shortstop on the Jackets baseball team, saw very little time behind center last season. Moore will try to replace Caston’s 105 yards per game of total offense and 15 touchdowns he totaled in 2015.

As a sophomore last year, Jalin Thomas (5-7, 160, JR) electrified Byrd fans with his big play capabilities both as a running back and kick returner. Unfortunately, Thomas suffered a season-ending leg injury on the first offensive series against district rival Parkway. Suggs and staff hope Thomas can return to form in 2016. Suggs was hoping to utilize the talents of three-sport (football, soccer, baseball) athlete Sammy Miletello (5-8, 140, JR) at one of the wingback spots. Unfortunately, Miletello suffered a knee injury in spring practice and is lost for the upcoming season.

Arguably the toughest task will fall to fullback Bailey O’Byrne (5-9, 163, SR), who will try to replace Tray Allen’s 1,095 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns he amassed a year ago.

With a multiple-option based offensive attack, Byrd does not throw the football very often. However, of Byrd’s eight touchdown passes last season, five of those were caught by speedster Joey Jernigan. With his departure, seniors Carlos Doss (5-10, 148, SR) and Kameron Sutton (5-11, 150, SR) will be called upon to provide a viable threat in the passing game. When the Jackets utilize a tight end those duties will fall to Christian Gulledge (6-2, 225, SR).

Defensively, only Shimorye Hampton (6-1, 225, SR) returns to a unit that allowed opponents just 247 yards per game.

Joining Hampton along the defensive line in Byrd’s 4-2-5 scheme, will be end Demetrius Brokenberry (6-0, 232, SR), tackle Mark Johnson (6-0, 221, SR) and nose guard Archie Lawrence (5-9, 195, SR). This group will try to replace the talents of departed seniors Malik Leary, Micah Minter and Cole Albritton, who combined for 85 tackles, 27 tackles-for-loss and 12 sacks in 2015. Hampton registered 27 tackles, 11 tackles-for-loss and one sack last season.

Koury Clark (5-7, 150, SR) takes over at the “buck” linebacker for Steele Netterville, who decided to gvie up football and concentrate on baseball. Clark had 21 tackles, three tackles-for-loss, a sack and a fumble recovery last year. George Mainous (5-10, 212, SR), who is an all-star lacrosse player at Byrd, Nick Arthur (5-10, 189, SR) and Gabriel Graham (5-10, 170, SR) will rotate at the weak and strong linebacker spots.

Gone are cornerbacks Luther Dallas and Chris Grant, who combined for 58 tackles, five interceptions – two returned for touchdowns, 13 pass breakups and one fumble recovery. The task of replacing those stalwarts falls to seniors Keaton Holley (5-11, 176, SR) and Darin Turner (5-10, 165, SR), who saw very limited time last season.

With Netterville's departure, it'll be interesting to see who takes over at free safety this season. Whomever it is, will have to try and replace Trent Touchet’s 50 tackles and three fumble recoveries from a year ago. Caleb Barnes (5-9, 160, SR) suffered a season-ending knee injury in last year’s fall scrimmage at Ruston. Barnes takes over at weak safety where he will have try to replace all-district performer Trent Jones.

Traditionally under Suggs, Byrd has had outstanding special teams. One area where the Jackets do not have a big question mark lingering is place kicker. Byrd has two experienced kickers in seniors Hardy Trafford (6-0 167, SR) and Ben Smith (5-5, 155, SR) returning. The two will share duties as they did a year ago when they combined to make 3-of-4 field goals, 53-of-56 PAT kicks and had 30 percent of their kickoffs result in touchbacks.

It’s a completely different story when it comes to punting where a giant question mark occupies that spot. Gone are Andrew Suggs and Jernigan, who shared duties the previous four seasons. Last year, the two averaged nearly 37 yards per punt and had eight of their 29 punts downed inside the 20.

With the loss of Tysen Hardman and Jernigan to graduation, the kick return duties will land in the very capable hands of Thomas and James. Prior to the injury, Thomas was averaging 42.7 yards per punt return. He had a 78-yard punt return for a touchdown in the 2015 season opener against Barbe. James averaged 31.2 yards per kickoff return, including a 79-yard return for a touchdown in Byrd’s 45-9 playoff win over Fontainebleau.

The Byrd Yellow Jackets face a very daunting schedule in 2016. Eight of the 10 opponents on the Jackets’ schedule reached the playoffs in 2015, including the Parkway Panthers, Evangel Eagles and St. Thomas More Cougars, each advancing to the semifinals or finals in their respective classes and divisions.

Byrd begins the season on the road in south Lake Charles against the Barbe Buccaneers. Byrd handed the Bucs a 53-14 loss in last year’s season opener. It was Barbe’s worst loss in 17 years. In week two, the Yellow Jackets will again participate in the Landers Dodge Battle on the Border High School Football Showcase. Byrd, which is 5-0 in Battle on the Border games, will play the St. Thomas More Cougars, who lost 24-21 to Parkview Baptist in the Division II State Championship, last year. STM is coached by Jim Hightower, who is the second winningest coach in Louisiana football history, and a recent inductee into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame. This game will also be the first of four consecutive Thursday games for Byrd in September.

The annual clash with the Calvary Cavaliers highlights week three. Byrd has never lost to Calvary, sporting a 28 points-per-game average margin of victory in the three previous meetings. In week four, it’s the annual “Backyard Brawl” with the Captain Shreve Gators. The arch rivals open District 1-5A play for the second straight year. The Jackets have won 22 of the last 23 meetings with the Gators. Byrd will play host to the high-powered Parkway Panthers in week five. Parkway lost in the 2015 Class 5A semifinals to eventual State Champion Zachary. The Panthers are led by All-State wide receiver Terrace Marshall and quarterback Justin Rogers, who has garnered a number of college scholarship offers, despite sitting behind starter Keondre Wudtee last season.

After traveling to Haughton to battle the Bucs in week six, the Jackets will celebrate Homecoming 2016 in week seven as they play host to the Southwood Cowboys. Byrd takes a reprieve from district play in week eight, when it hosts the Green Oaks Giants. The Jackets look to continue its recent dominance over the Airline Vikings in week nine. Byrd has won 13 straight games against Airline dating back to 2005.

Byrd will end the regular season on the road at Evangel’s Rodney Duron Field. The Yellow Jackets beat the Eagles 24-16 in last year’s finale, which caused a three-way tie between Byrd, Evangel and Parkway for the district crown. Evangel had one of the best defenses in the state a season ago and should be very tough again with the return of linemen Davin Cotton and Aaron Calcote.

Despite the giant question mark surrounding the 2016 Byrd Yellow Jackets, one question that has already been answered is that for the second time in four years Byrd is back in the playoffs before the regular season begins. With the recent LHSAA vote to revert back to using attendance zones over parish lines to determine “select” and “non-select” status, Byrd finds itself returning to the Division I select playoffs after a two-year hiatus. In 2013, the Yellow Jackets reached the Division I State Championship in the Mercedes Benz Superdome before suffering a heartbreaking 23-22 loss to the Archbishop Rummel Raiders. 


 

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