LEESVILLE – After a successful 2017 campaign, which featured a district championship and a second round playoff appearance, Leesville will try to replace multiple key players to reproduce last year's success.
The Wampus Cat (10-2) offense will feature new playmakers behind a stout offensive line, while the defense replaces eight players.
"We're blessed and feel fortunate to be back for another season, just a chance to work with these kids that have been in our program for three years," Leesville head coach Robert Causey said. "We're looking forward to our freshmen coming in.
"We're not a perfect team. Every program has strengths and weaknesses, and every year, it's something different. What was a strength last year, might be a weaknesses the next year because you can't go out and recruit the best."
Leesville lost quarterback Chris Vargas (Louisiana College), running back Andrew Croker (McNeese State), wide receiver McKenzie Jackson (U.S. Naval Academy) and tight end Kobe Joiner (Louisiana-Lafayette) – all key offensive weapons on a team that averaged 34.25 points per game last year.
Running back D'ante Gallashaw returns to the backfield after a productive sophomore year, in which he averaged 65.5 yards per game and have five rushing touchdowns.
"Our system evolves with the skill positions that you have," Causey said. "He will be integral part, just like the other ones we have. It's really designed to not to have to depend on one position or kid. You just take what you have.
"He can play one of three skill positions. We have several others like that. We are going to lean on him, but he's not going to be the workhorse. We've never really had a kid on our offense that we look at and say that we are going to lean on just one."
Gallashaw will be joined by fellow junior Jalen Shepherd, who had an impressive performance against Welsh in the team's preseason scrimmage.
The backs will have some of the top offensive linemen in Class 4A blocking for them upfront. The offensive line returns University of Nebraska commit Matthew Anderson and Stephen F. Austin commit Monte Lynch.
The entire starting offensive line for the Wampus Cats is made up of seniors – a rare commodity.
"It's great," Lynch said. "We have very high character guys that are working hard every day.
"I'm looking forward to us having a great year."
Noah Allain and Jacob Mount are competing for the quarterback spot, however, Causey says both guys may get reps in the same game.
"We are inexperienced at quarterback, but we have two kids that could start," he said. "That's a good problem to have. They're competing, and they're good friends. They play baseball together, and they're quarterbacks together. They both get after it and work with each other.
"We're going to play the one that gives us the best shot, and they might both play."
Whomever wins the quarterback spot will rely on 6-foot-3 receiver Duwon Tolbert. Tolbert racked up 514 yards and six touchdowns last season.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Wampus Cats replaced four of their top five tacklers.
Sabian Matuu (67 tackles), Derek Hurt (63 tackles), DJ Smith (six sacks) and Jordan Dowden (three interceptions) all graduated, leaving top tackler, Matthew Pajinag the leading returning defensive player.
"When you look, it was just something we didn't expect," Causey said. "We had a good nucleus of kids that played and bonded together.
"It was a group of seniors that just gelled and played hard for one another. They bought into our message and what this program is about: servant leadership, a great work ethic and being relentless in everything that you do."
Pajinag, a senior linebacker, racked up 95 tackles last season and added 10 tackles for loss.
Causey hopes the culture he and his staff instilled in the weight room for his last three years continues to show its benefits.
"You have to give your kids a fighting chance," he said. "It's not so much streetball or going to the ballpark, there's other things you can do. You are looking to make these kids better athletes, school-wide.
"We use the weight room and the track to teach them about work ethic, how to overcome adversity, how to serve other people and how to put other people first. We're getting there. It doesn't happen overnight."
Leesville starts its season at 7 p.m. on August 31 at Wampus Cat Stadium against Washington-Marion.