Lakeshore looks to build on recent gridiron excellence
To say that Craig Jones has built a superb program at Lakeshore in a short period of time would be accurate.
In fact, it may be an understatement.
Over the last two seasons, Lakeshore has posted a 26-2 record.
In 2017, the Titans reached the Class 4A state championship game, losing to perhaps the best program in Louisiana in Edna Karr, 48-26.
In 2018, Lakeshore again posted an unbeaten regular season at 10-0 and reached the 4A quarterfinals before bowing out against Neville.
“We’re happy with the results overall but the biggest thing is that we have created a culture with high expectations and the younger guys coming in realize that this is where want to stay and that we want to get even higher,” Jones said.
The challenge for Jones and the Titans in 2019 is to maintain the level of excellence which is the new norm for the still newer school in Mandeville.
While the challenge is stout, the Titans are ready and motivated to continue their amazing success.
While superstar Jacob Bernard has graduated, along with quarterback Parker Orvin and three solid offensive linemen, there are a host of talented players returning.
In all, there are 17 players returning who have started games for the Titans a year ago.
“I think the success has allowed us to play the younger guys in a handful of games to get them experience since we were able to control some games,” Jones said. “Those guys will step in and be asked to be major contributors. That is what successful programs do. They are prepared to what they will step into now.
There are a pair of outstanding athletes who competed to start at quarterback in seniors Jake Smiroldo (5-9, 160) and Christian Westcott (6-1, 205).
After a stiff competition, Jones has settled on Westcott.
“Westcott will be the starter at quarterback while Jake can return to wide receiver as a three-year starter,” Jones said. “That makes us a better team overall. Christian has all the tools required to play the position. He is a tremendous competitor that will do whatever it takes to find a way to win. He brings a power running game to the quarterback position that we haven’t had. He can run it hard and put it in the end zone. He opens up many avenues for us offensively.”
A year ago, Smiroldo caught 45 passes for 731 yards and 12 touchdowns while Westcott rushed for 157 yards and 12 touchdowns and recorded 72 tackles, including 16 for loss and eight sacks while amassing an astonishing seven blocked punts on special teams as a true all-purpose player.
The running game is in very good shape with senior Max Lowery returning. Lowery (5-9, 165) rushed 147 times for 887 yards and six touchdowns and he caught nine passes for 116 yards and three touchdowns a year ago.
“Max is back while B.J. Foster can run it as well for us,” Jones said. “It will predominantly be Lowery.”
Another outstanding receiver is senior Spencer Jordan (6-3, 200). Jordan caught 27 passes for 527 yards and eight touchdowns last season. Foster (5-10, 160 Jr.) returns as well while junior Rhett Kimbell (6-1, 170) adds good size to the receiving corps.
Up front, four players with experience return, including senior center Cayden Guzzardo (5-11, 280), junior guard Connor Rich (5-10, 215) and senior tackles Carter Smith (6-1, 205) and Matthew Wray (6-5, 270).
“I feel we have a lot of leadership up front,” Jones said. “We have a couple of injuries in Wray and Guzzardo and they are returning for us. Smith is a returning starter, along with Rich. Ryan Bernard is a sophomore who will be a new starter.”
The defense is experienced as well.
Up front, senior Zach Bernard (6-1, 250) anchors the defensive line. Bernard had 26 tackles, including seven for loss with 3.5 sacks a year ago despite missing substantial time injured. Junior Deante Ducre (5-10, 215) returns as well. Westcott and senior Scott Scalia (5-9, 175) complete the front with both lining up at linebacker most frequently.
“We have a lot of returning experience up front on defense,” Jones said. “Zach would have been all-district if he had not been hurt last year. Ducre and Scalia were all-district players as well. Getting Zach back is a huge addition to what we played without last year.”
The others linebackers include a pair of players with experience in senior Simon Willie (6-0, 195) and Devin Weilbacher (5-11, 205).
“Both guys are returning players and they have to be vocal to set our fronts and be our leaders,” Jones said. “We haven’t asked them to do that as heavily previously.”
The secondary features a pair of returning starters at cornerback in seniors Brendan Perry (5-9, 165) and Cullan Ziegler (6-0, 165). Perry recorded 41 tackles and had four interceptions while Ziegler had 28 tackles and three interceptions last season.
“Both corners have offers from Southern University,” Jones said. “Perry is a four-year starter while Ziegler is a two-year starter.”
The safeties are Lowery, senior Ryan DeGruy (5-10, 170) and junior Jayden McClain (5-9, 160).
“We lost all three starters at safety and Smiroldo may play there some,” Jones said.
Sophomore Megan Gettys (5-4, 125) will handle kicking duties while junior Zach Dollar (6-1, 200) and Westcott man the punter position.
The schedule opens with three consecutive home games against Fontainebleau, South Plaquemines and Northshore before the Titans hit the road to face Moss Point, MS in week four. Lakeshore faces three more stiff challenges in weeks five through seven, hosting tough De La Salle Oct. 3 before traveling to Archbishop Hannan and Westgate.
“I like the way we have set up our pre-district schedule with 5A schools, 4A schools and good football programs,” Jones said. “It is tough to schedule seven games in non-district. The pickings are slim. I think we have challenging opponents. We are excited to play new opponents in Moss Point and Westgate. De La Salle and Coach Manale have built a great program. Hopefully, we are in the same boat as programs. That should be a really good team. Hannan is very close to us. We were finally able to schedule them.”
District 8-4A play begins Oct. 25 at home against Franklinton before a home game with Pearl River. The regular season concludes Nov. 8 at Salmen.
“I think every team in the district will be improved,” Jones said. “Pearl River wants to run the ball. The challenge is to get the ball from them and not have them eat the clock. Salmen always has athletic kids. Franklinton has been really good in junior varsity the past two years so I expect they will be better in varsity. I think pre-district prepares us well for district play.”
With a ton of success recently, a host of returning players and an excellent coaching staff, excellence figures to continue for Lakeshore in 2019.
“I’m excited about this team,” Jones said. “Every team has to figure out who they are in the spring and summer. I think one of the big steps was making a decision on quarterback. Now, we can gear our offense towards what Christian does best. This year’s team has potential but potential doesn’t mean anything unless you go out and prove it.”
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