Wind back the clock a half decade, and you’ll find Jesuit at the top of high school football in Louisiana.
The Blue Jays had just captured their first title in 54 years knocking off national power John Curtis, 17-14, in the Division I championship game. It was the first year of Mark Songy’s second head coaching stint with the program, and Jesuit finished 12-2 that year in 2014.
The next few years weren’t so kind, however, as the Blue Jays totaled just 12 wins in the three following seasons including a 2-9 campaign in 2017.
Last year was a different story, though, as Jesuit went 6-6 including its first playoff victory since 2015 and the Jays hope to continue to improve this season in 2019.
“We’re expecting to be a better football team than we were a year ago,” said Songy, whose team knocked off St. Paul’s, 21-17, in the first round of last year’s Division I playoffs. “It just depends on how fast we grow up and if we’re able to stay injury-free. Of course, everybody says that, but we really believe that once our guys mature a little bit we’re going to give everybody a little bit to consider.”
The Blue Jays head into the season with a fair amount of new faces in new places, but they do have a solid nucleus of seniors led by Louisiana-Lafayette commitment Sonny Hazard.
The 6-foot-2, 295-pounder’s last name is more than fitting for his style of play as he’s been wreaking havoc in opposing backfields for several years now. Hazard has a powerful base, is quick off the line, nimble on his feet and plays with a mean streak.
Jesuit just wrapped up its first day in pads on Monday after a full week including two-a-days last week, and the star defensive lineman was encouraged by what he’s seen so far from his teammates.
“The first week of practice was great,” Hazard said. “All of our guys got out here and had a good work day. We all got continuously better every single day and this week we’re just looking forward to building on last week and to keep adding new stuff to the gameplans.”
The new additions to the Blue Jays’ schemes will largely center around accentuating their advantage up front along the offensive and defensive lines.
Next to Hazard are two more seniors in Evan Taffaro and 6-foot-4, 230-pounder Ethan Branch. The trio will be part of a stout defensive front that also includes another senior in 5-foot-11, 205-pound Paxton Dinwiddie, and the group expects their play and energy to be contagious throughout the team.
“Being strong up front is definitely a big thing and that’s where the heart of the team is,” Taffaro explained. “All of our enthusiasm and strength is on the line and if the line has it, everyone is going to start picking things up. The energy that the line brings is eventually going to carry over to the DBs and linebackers and quarterbacks and wide receivers.”
“I definitely think that Jesuit’s strength lies within the trenches,” Hazard added. “If we come to play somebody, they’re getting a war in those trenches all four quarters.”
The Blue Jay’s powerful front also extends to the offensive line, which is led by 6-foot-4, 260-pounder Brian Balestra. The Air Force commitment along with senior Max McMahon both return as starters, and Jesuit also has two senior receivers back in Luke LaForge and Luke Besh.
The rest of the offensive lineup will be first-timers including 6-foot-2, 195-pound senior quarterback Grant Jordan, but his teammates along with Songy have been highly encouraged by what they’ve seen from the first-year starter.
“I like our quarterback,” Songy said. “He really is playing well and growing up quite a bit. He’s got a nice release, he’s throwing to some really good receivers and I think this is the best bunch of receivers we’ve had in a while.”
“I’ve seen him sling the rock like nobody I’ve seen at Jesuit the past four years,” added Hazard, who also described Jordan as “special.” “He’s got a different kind of arm.”
Behind Jordan will be a couple of different running backs vying for playing time, but the success of this year’s team will largely lie on its performance at the line of scrimmage and senior leadership.
Like Hazard, Balestra will play a key role in both of those aspects as the Blue Jays look to improve on last year’s 6-6 finish.
“We have a lot of new starters but I feel like the main players are still here and everybody has a grasp of what they’re doing,” Balestra said. “I think us (leaders) setting a tempo makes everybody else play up a level.”
“I’m not going to make any (predictions),” Balestra added. “But I don’t think we’ll have a bad year and I think we’ll do better than last year, for sure.”
Jesuit 2019 Schedule
Week 1 | Sept. 6 (Fri.) | @ Terrebonne | 7 p.m.
Week 2 | Sept. 13 (Fri.) | @ St. Paul’s | 7 p.m.
Week 3 | Sept. 20 (Fri.) | vs. Helen Cox | 7 p.m.
Week 4 | Sept. 27 (Fri.) | vs. Brother Martin | 7 p.m.
Week 5 | Oct. 4 (Fri.) | @ Holy Cross | 7:15 p.m.
Week 6 | Oct. 12 (Sat.) | vs. St. Augustine | 6 p.m.
Week 7 | Oct. 18 (Fri.) | @ John Curtis | 7 p.m.
Week 8 | Oct. 25 (Fri.) | @ Shaw | 7 p.m.
Week 9 | Nov. 1 (Fri.) | @ Hahnville | 7 p.m.
Week 10 | Nov. 8 (Fri.) | vs. Rummel | 7 p.m.