Opelousas set to build on excellent 2022 season
A constant struggle for high school football teams is staying competitive while constantly graduating your best players.
Opelousas Senior High School is fortunate not to have this problem in 2023, for the most part.
As a result, the Tigers have a real shot at repeating last year’s success with most of the same squad returning. The Orange and Black have high expectations going into this season.
Jimmy Zachery has now coached a full cycle of players as he enters his fifth season.
The ties run deep for Zachery, who played for Opelousas from 1997-2001, experiencing outstanding success.
“We have a rich, rich, rich history of winning,” Zachery said. “It was forgotten for a while that we were dominant in football at one point and our goal is turning the program around; getting back to the winning side of things consistently.”
This could be Opelousas’s season to do so.
Zachery has achieved an overall record of 15-14 in three seasons with the Tigers.
The 2022 season was a breakthrough as Opelousas won nine games and took the District 5-4A title, dominating district opponents by a 202-20 scoring margin.
Despite the success, there is a larger appetite for the Tigers.
“We want more,” Zachary said. “We want to go 10-0. I think Larry Dauterive is the only coach to post a 10-0 season, back in 1992. We want to bring that back to the historic success of Opelousas football.”
The Tigers have reached the playoffs the last two years after missing the postseason from 2019-21.
In 2018, they made it to the Regional round of the playoffs, and in 2021, they finished in the Bi-District round.
This past season, Opelousas, as the third seed in the Non-Select Division II playoffs, fell to 14th-seed Lakeshore (9-2) 35-34 in excruciating fashion in the Bi-District round as the Titans rallied from two scores down in the final six minutes to win.
“That loss taught players and coaches alike that you have to stay locked in and focus at all times and finish the game,” Zachery said. “You cannot take anyone lightly, regardless of their seed.”
“Our ultimate goal is to win the championship,” Coach Zachery said.
Luckily for the Tigers, they graduated very few players this past year, only losing ten seniors. Among those lost includes WR Mehki Jones (5-6), 1st Team All District, LB Dontay Washington (6-0, 189), District Defensive MVP, OL Bryson Baloney (5-11, 250), 1st Team All District, and S Kyler Rideau (5-7), 2nd Team All District. Though they kept most of their players, the Tigers have definitely lost some major difference makers.
However, on the bright side, the Tigers will return seventeen starters on the offense and defense. This is largely due to Coach Zachery’s decision to play a lot of freshmen early on at a varsity level and train them up amidst largely Jr/Sr competition.
“I’m glad we made a decision to play those guys young,” Zachery said. He says that he “threw them in the fire,” and that “now we are reaping the benefits of doing it,”. The following players are those who coach Zachery has identified as the projected starting lineup for the 2023 season.
On the offensive end of things, the offense will consist of all but two returning starters. The Tigers return junior Zack Malveaux (6-1, 180) as their starting quarterback. Malveaux made second-team All-District last season.
“Malveaux is a legitimate threat,” Zachery said. “We’re looking for him to have a breakout season this year.”
Malveaux’s targets will include a returning starter in jnior Korey Fontenot (6-1, 170) and a new starting in senior Antonio Thomas (5-8, 150). Fontenot was a first-team All-District performer last season and will look to keep the receiving corps strong.
Malveaux will also have tight ends to throw to, including returning starter in sophomore Corey Majors (6-1, 180) and new starting senior Charles Bernard (6-1, 210).
Junior D’Shaun Ford (6-1, 215) returns at running back. Ford earned the District Offensive Most Valuable Player award last season.
“We are a heavy run team that has capabilities to spread out to throw the ball around,” Zachery said. “Ford is very good but we also want to spread it out.”
The offense will be protected by a talented offensive line which returns intact.
Those players include juniors Bryson Lewis (6-2, 240) and Chris Rideau (6-2, 260), along with seniors Jakyrie Lambert (6-2, 250), Joe Milton (6-2, 290), and Keegan Moten (6-4, 270). Milton and Moten were both first-team All-District players last season while Lewis earned second-team honors.
“We depend heavily on our offensive and defensive line,” Zachery said. “The overwhelming amount of talent on this O-line should be a major catalyst for offensive success.”
On the defensive side of the ball, all but three players will be returning starters.
The Tigers have committed to a 3-4 defense, and it all starts with the defensive line, which Zachery has expressed plays a huge role in the team’s success.
All are returning starters, including juniors Jacobian Ardoin (5-11, 240), Dontravious Parish (6-2, 260) and Jonathan Ford (6-2, 270). Ford and Ardoin both earned first-team All-District honors last season and Parish was a second-team All-District player. Ford broke the school single game record with eight tackles for loss Livonia on October 14th. The previous record had been set back in 2006 by Lee Isaac.
At linebacker, the Tigers will return two out of four starters, with those being juniors Corey Amos (6-4, 210) and Travis Esprit (6-0, 205). Both made second-team All-District last season. The two new starting linebackers will be juniors Kylen Young (5-11, 190) and Jaylon Breaux (5-10, 185).
Both cornerbacks return as starters in juniors Justin Washington (5-8, 170) and Landon Hammond (6-2, 160). Hammond made first-team All-District and Washington made second Team All-District last season.
Senior Collin Fontenot (6-0, 185) will return at safety with a new starter in junior Kyren Moore (6-1, 170) playing alongside him. Fontenot was first-team All-District last season.
Senior Ashton Smith (5-11) will handle kicking and punting duties. Smith made second-team All-District last season.
The season begins Sept. 2 with a tough matchup at Teurlings Catholic. A series of non-district road games will follow against Natchitoches Central, Lake Charles College Prep, St. Amant, Leesville and New Iberia. District play begins on October 13th with a home game against Livonia, followed by a home game against Breaux Bridge and an away game against Beau Chene on November 3rd.
“We have most of the team returning on both sides of the ball,” Zachery said. “This year’s team is experienced, as all of them have been competing on the varsity level since they were freshmen. We have a huge number of juniors and seniors so we must take full advantage of that experience. Our ultimate goal is to win the state championship.”
With a good team, look for the Tigers to possibly make a deeper run in the playoffs.
Click here for more CCS Prep Football team previews (including archives of past season previews).
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Wyatt Audler is a senior in high school at Holy Cross of New Orleans who runs cross country and track and field. He has had a love for sports all his life and hopes to get early exposure into the field of sports writing with the help Crescent City Sports. Wyatt looks to study sports journalism in college and become…