LEESVILLE – Wampus Cat head coach Robert Causey could have easily sat back and reveled in last season's success, but instead he and his staff went back to work.
Leesville is coming off a 13-1 season, including a perfect 10-0 regular season for the first time, that ended in the state semifinals.
"When I get fired or retire, I will have an opportunity," Causey said. "It's a year-round job. You don't really have time. Once the last game was over, we started looking at what we had coming back, what holes we had to fill, jumped right into our weight room offseason program and haven't really stopped."
The Wampus Cats lose one of the most dominant units in the state – their offensive line.
Causey will have to replace five starters including current Nebraska Cornhusker Matthew Anderson and Tyler Community College tackle Montae Lynch.
"We shouldn't miss a beat, as far as execution," Causey said. "We should know where we are going and the timing should be down and who to block. The question is seeing it at game speed. When you have that many young kids is where we were two years ago."
Despite losing some key cogs upfront, Leesville has skill in bunches, including returning All-District running back D'Ante Gallashaw (1,490 yards, eight touchdowns).
"Our strong point is that our offense just runs hard," Gallashaw said. "We just give it everything we have."
D'Ante's brother Caleb Gallashaw (780 yards, 10 touchdowns) improved throughout the season to become a big-time playmaker as a freshman.
Jalen Shepherd was the team's leading rusher before missing the most of the season with a torn ACL and is back for his senior season, and senior Darius Allen (1,081 total yards) is a home run hitter on special teams and out of the backfield.
Quarterback Jacob Mount also returns to fold for his junior year and can lean on the experience of deep playoff run.
"It's beneficial because it shows me how intense and serious it is from regular season," he said. "You still play every game as hard as you can and prepare for every game like it's your last.
"I went to a lot of camps and learned about all these guys that are coming up. I got closer with them and got stronger and faster."
The Wampus Cats lost their vertical threat in Duwon Tolbert (Tyler Community College) but bring back tight end/quarterback Noah Allain who pulled in eight touchdown grabs in 2018.
"I think it will be a lot better than last year because we know each other and have a good connection and good chemistry," Mount said.
The biggest question mark for Leesville is on the defensive side of the ball, losing four of its top five tacklers, including linebacker Matthew Pajinag.
"Within your system, you have to be able to adjust to fit your skill set," Causey said. "With our scheme, we keep it pretty basic. We're doing the same things we've done. The kids have experience in the terminology and scheme. It's just repetition of the fundamentals at the speed they are going to see in the game."
One of the players that will have to have a big role in the defense is linebacker Efosa Evbuomwan.
"Definitely leading by example is one of the biggest things," he said. "You have to show them it's OK to do things because you are doing them, as well. A boss is going to tell you what to do. A leader is going to show you what to do."
"My speed has gotten better from being in track. Linebacker is new position for me, so I'm definitely getting into the swing of things."
The defense will be put to the test early with Jennings and Lake Charles College Prep in the first two weeks.
"It was hard scheduling, honestly," Causey said. "We went through about 17 schools to try and find our week three opponent. The teams we were calling were really elite teams out of New Orleans, Lafayette or West Monroe. We try to play teams that will make us better as a program. I'm old school and still think that district has meaning, even though the state has gone to power points. Our district was designed to get us ready for what we're going to face."
The Wampus Cats took on Welsh in a preseason scrimmage and will go up against Many in a jamboree on August 30. Many is one of the marque programs in the state – what Leesville wants to be.
"I don't ever want to make this program about winning because a lot of the times, it is out of your hands based upon the talent that you have from year-to-year," Causey said. "Especially with us being a military school, and the kids coming and going. Schools like us don't really know what we have until school starts.
"It's about a commitment from the community and buying in. When you support the athletics it does a lot for academics. Success just permeates throughout your entire school. It just bleeds out to everything when you put that type of support into it. Many has success everywhere, and that's what I want here and using the game of football to achieve it."