Byrd carries high expectations in 2022 season
Byrd is entering year two under head coach Stacy Ballew, and expectations around the “City of Byrd” are high for the 2022 Yellow Jackets.
Fans are expecting the Jackets to improve on last year’s 9-2 record and make a deeper run in the LHSAA’s Division I Playoffs.
The Byrd faithful have good reason for those lofty expectations as the Yellow Jackets return the majority of their offensive starters as well as the bulk of their defense. With a good mixture of experience and quality depth Byrd is looking to repeat as District 1-5A Champions.
The Yellow Jackets will have to try and replace the big-play capabilities of Mitchell Ramsey, both in the backfield and in the kick return game. However, with two-year starter Lake Lambert (6’2”, 195, Sr.) at quarterback as well as a stable of experienced backs returning, including wingbacks Tyler Nichols (5’6”, 165, Sr.) and Josh Allen (5’9”, 170, Sr.) and fullback Dixon Poirier (5’10”, 175, Jr.) as well as last year’s leading rusher in fullback Devon Strickland (5’10”, 195, Sr.), should provide Byrd with an arsenal of weapons.
Byrd operates out of a multiple-option offense and are not known for their aerial capabilities. However, wide receiver Jackson Dufrene (6’3”, 170, Sr.) hopes to change those perceptions. Dufrene caught the attention of opponents and scouts alike, particularly during summer 7-on-7 competitions and college camps. He received an offer from the University of Arkansas – Monticello after attending the Boll Weevils’ summer camp.
Louisiana Football Magazine editor Lee Brecheen wrote the following about Dufrene, “I’ve seen game film of Byrd and when this kid gets the opportunity, he is magical catching the ball. Dufrene is tough and can really run after the catch. He was targeted 10 times and caught eight passes for 84 yards with two touchdowns in 2021, which was a good chunk of the Yellow Jackets’ passes thrown last season.”
The emergence of Dufrene as a reliable receiver gives Lambert, who has a strong and accurate arm, another weapon at his disposal. Connor Ridenour (5’8”, 150, Sr.), who grew up playing football in Canada before his parents moved the family to Shreveport, is the only other returning receiver. A pair of sophomores in Alex Schoonover and Wesley Morgan are expected to be in the wide receiver rotation as well.
If there are any questions about Byrd offensively it’s along the offensive line where the Jackets lost four players – center Caleb Aillet, tackles Wyatt McCollum and Guy Stone as well as tight end Patrick Snead. Both starting guards Jack Thigpen (5’10”, 190, Sr.) and Kyle Sprague (5’10”, 200, Sr.) return. Ballew and his staff are hoping to get starting left tackle Kailen Moore (6’3”, 223, Sr.) back after he missed the entire spring with non-football related issues. Johnathon Helton (5’10”, 175, Jr.) is slated to take over at center, while Jackson Rust (6’3”, 200, Sr.) and Dylan Gillie (6’0”, 170, Jr.) are penciled in at the right and left tackle spots, respectively. Expect Colton Miller (5’11”, 263, Sr.) and Owen Scott (6’2”, 215, Jr.) to vie for playing time as well.
The Purple Swarm Defense will be led by All-District, All-City performers in linebacker Brooks Brossette (6’0”, 185, Sr.) and defensive end Isaiah Ford (6’2”, 195, Sr.). With a nose for the football and a high-intensity motor, Brossette registered 106 total tackles, including 10 tackles-for-loss, last season. Ford, who features a long, lean frame with a wide wingspan, had 45 tackles, seven tackles-for-loss and two sacks as a junior.
In addition to Ford, Byrd returns tackles Brennan Belanger (5’10”, 205, Sr.) and Ben Martinson (6’1”, 230, Sr.) to its four-man defensive front. The two tackles combined for 44 tackles, seven tackles-for-loss and three sacks a year ago. Wyatt Watkins (6’2”, 180, Sr.), who played linebacker last season, moves down to defensive end opposite of Ford. Watkins had 18 tackles and four tackles-for-loss as a reserve linebacker in 2021.
Because Brossette grabs the majority of the accolades, and rightfully so, the other linebacker in Byrd’s 4-2-5 defensive scheme often gets overlooked. William Whitman (5’11”, 165, Sr.) and Ashton Fullwood (5’10”, 205, Jr.) will compete for the starting job opposite of Brossette. Both players saw substantial playing time last season.
With the graduation of safeties Ryan Todd and John Jordan as well as cornerbacks Ja’Kerryon LaCour and Tyler Poland, the Yellow Jackets will need to replace a good portion of its defensive backfield. However, LaMichael Taylor (5’10”, 163, Sr.), Christian Jones (6’0”, 165, Sr.) and Jude Partington (5’10”, 155, Sr.) all saw significant playing time throughout the 2021 season. Jones really burst on to the scene last year for Byrd and finished the season as the Jackets’ second-leading tackler with 50 tackles, including 38 solo stops. Expect Walker Fox (5’10”, 165, Sr.), who moved from the offensive to defense in the spring, Grant Johnson (5’11, 176, Jr.) along with Braylin Daniels (5’9”, 140, Sr.) and Jason Green (5’10”, 165, Sr.) to compete for playing time.
Over the last 25 years Byrd has been blessed with a bevy of exceptional place kickers, including last year’s starter Michael Hamaeui, who’s now playing soccer at Millsaps College. Primed to carry on that tradition is junior Abram Murray (6’1”, 180, Jr.), who sat out last season after transferring from Calvary Baptist Academy. Murray, who’s slated for the Class of 2024, already has offers from Power 5 schools like Arkansas and Miami.
Matthew Booras (5’11”, 135, Jr.) will once again handle the punting duties for Byrd. Booras averaged 33.9 yards per punt as a sophomore last season.
The biggest task for Ballew and his coaching staff will be finding a replacement for Ramsey, who was planning to walk-on at LSU. Ramsey was electric in the return game the last two seasons. In 2020, he had three kickoff returns for touchdowns. Last year, he averaged over 20 yards per kick return, 35 yards per punt return and led the team with over 121 all-purpose yards per game. The coaching staff will likely look to some of the talented backs and receivers to handle the kick return duties.
Ballew has put together a strong non-district slate as the Yellow Jackets take on East Texas power Pleasant Grove in the season opener. Byrd will tangle with two 2021 playoff teams in Huntington and Calvary Baptist, in its final non-district games before heading into District 1-5A play. The Jackets will host Captain Shreve, Haughton, and Airline, while traveling to Benton, Parkway, Southwood and Natchitoches Central.
No one will know until after the September meeting what the LHSAA’s new classification/division changes, will mean for the 13 teams that were used to competing in Division I. Despite the uncertainty in Baton Rouge, there’s one thing that is certain in Shreveport and that’s the expectations for the 2022 Byrd Yellow Jackets are high.
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