Youthful McDonogh 35 Roneagles look to mature quickly
There is little doubt that McDonogh 35 is one of the best teams in Class 4A in Louisiana. They have proven it over an extended period of time under Wayne Reese.
The obstacle for the Roneagles is overcoming the truest elite teams in the class and finding a way to somehow avoid or get past traditional power Neville.
The Roneagles saw their 2017 season end in crushing fashion, losing a 14-13 second round playoff game in Monroe against Neville.
McDonogh 35 reached the semifinals in 2016, bowing out against district rival and eventual state champion Karr. The Roneagles lost by a point (27-26) to Warren Easton in the quarterfinals in 2016. In 2012, it was another trip to the semifinals, falling to Neville. The Roneagles lost to Neville in the quarterfinals in 2011. It was Neville stopping 35 in the second round in an epic 39-36 battle in 2009.
McDonogh 35 must replace a host of talented players who graduated and are now playing at the next level, including Glenn Brown, Joseph Foucha, Jordan Griffin, Lawrence Keys, Jared Miles and Eddie Tillman.
The Roneagles will be a young team in 2018, graduating 28 seniors but do not mistake that for not being talented.
“In high school, this is the most kids I’ve lost and the most quality I’ve lost at one time,” Reese said. “It is hard to replace those type of guys. We do have some young kids who are talented who can fill the roles but they are young. It will take time.”
The offense must settle on a quarterback to replace LeJohn Howard, who was excellent.
The battle to replace Howard is close between juniors Torey Chambers (5-10, 170) and Demond Pratt (5-9, 165).
“I think we have three kids who can play at quarterback but two in particular,” Reese said. “Pratt has a chance to start but Chambers has ability. It will be a toss-up.”
Junior Steveland Williams (5-8, 165) replaces Tillman at running back while the wide receivers include senior Frank Robertson (5-9, 160), along with sophomores Dwayne Dales (5-7, 155) and William Poole (5-10, 165).
“Williams can fill the void,” Reese said. “He is a track guy with speed and he works hard. The wide receiver spot is a somewhat unknown. We have guys with ability but it is starting over.”
Up front, the starters will include Tristian Carter, along with sophomores Ramon James (5-11, 265), Ryan Price (5-10, 275) and Kaleb Derouen (6-3, 230). The fifth starter is junior Terrence Jordan (6-2, 225).
“We have a way to go with our offensive line,” Reese said. “We are young and it may take some time for them to come together.”
There is more experience on defense where perhaps the three best players on the team reside.
“Our defense is a step ahead of our offense,” Reese said. “We know the defense will have to carry us early in the season.”
Up front, senior Jalen Jackson (6-0, 255) is outstanding and he will be joined by junior Tyree Nelson (6-2, 210) and seniors Lorenzo Fisher (6-0, 230) and Carlos McKee (6-0, 210).
The linebackers are senior Desmond Tolbert (5-10, 215) and junior JJ Hudson (5-10, 200).
The secondary should excel, led by seniors Jaden Henderson (6-0, 205) and Austin Jones (5-11, 170). Henderson is committed to UL-Lafayette while Jones has many offers, including from Tulane, UL-Lafayette, Louisiana Tech and Nicholls.
“Everyone is impressed with Henderson and Austin can really play as well,” Reese said. “We are good in the secondary. It should be a strength for our team.”
The other starters in the deep include senior Jesse Lawrence (5-11, 195) and sophomore Jamarian Henderson (6-1, 210), the brother of Jaden.
Torey Chambers or Claudell McDonald will handle kicking duties while Henderson is a dangerous return man.
The schedule opens with traditional rival St. Augustine on Sept. 1 before the Roneagles endure six consecutive road games. They will first visit Hoss Memstas Stadium to take on Higgins and head to Reserve to face East St. John. Then come games at Memtsas against Helen Cox and Carencro before the Roneagles head to Behrman Stadium to face two-time defending Class 4A state champion Karr.
“We have a lot of road games,” Reese said. “When you play a lot of road games, it is all about finance. When we go on the road, there is a chance to make more money for your school and program. Being on the road builds toughness as well.
District 10-4A play opens on the road against Riverdale before the Roneagles close with three home games, against Carver, Warren Easton and John F. Kennedy.
“Warren Easton is outstanding,” Reese said. “They have a whole lot of good football programs and will present a huge challenge. The new Kennedy should be tough. Their attitude has changed. Carver will reload. They have outstanding athletes. They always have since I was there. I know they will be right there in the hunt.”
With so many road games, McDonogh 35 will have to grow up quickly. With a young squad, the Roneagles will have to mature on offense to be the threat that they have been in recent years. Based on their track record, you can expect they will do so.
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