Live Oak at Acadiana football playoffs Hagen Long Kee Hawkins

Live Oak running backs Hagen Long (24) and Kee Hawkins (5) celebrate a touchdown in the team's first-round playoff game at Acadiana.

WATSON – The start of the season began with a historic statewide ranking for the program and quick 3-0 start and ended with an unceremonious first-round state playoff exit.

It’s been the overriding narrative of Brett Beard’s fifth spring training at Live Oak High School, which hosts East Ascension at 10 a.m. Saturday in its annual spring game.

“At the end of the day it’s not where you start but where you finish,” Beard said. “Where we finished was as a 30th seed that got beat in the first round of the playoffs and that’s unacceptable here. Going into the (spring) season we talked that it was time to get back to Live Oak football and who we are.

“Just making the playoffs is not OK,” Beard said. “If we’re not hosting that first round or getting to the second round or quarterfinals and figuring a way to get into that Thanksgiving week, it’s unacceptable to our standard here at Live Oak.”

The year after the school’s first trip to the state quarterfinals, where they hosted Acadiana in a post-Thanksgiving Day matchup, showed tremendous promise with Live Oak earning its first preseason ranking of No. 8 in the Class 5A poll.

The Eagles rose to as high as No. 7, winning their first three games, before experiencing a midseason tumble that evolved into an end-of-the-season freefall.

After a come-from-behind win over arch-rival Denham Springs, the Eagles lost five of their last six games which was capped by a 22-7 setback at Acadiana in the opening round of the playoffs.

“We want to be playing every year at Thanksgiving,” said Beard, whose team finished 5-6 overall and in a tie with Scotlandville for fifth in District 4-5A. “That’s how we’ve approached our business. Every day you’ve got to work to get better. Find it in you to figure out a way to get us back to being mentioned with that top tier. I don’t know how many times this offseason I’ve said that 30’s (seeding) unacceptable. It’s two away from not making the playoffs.”

A great deal of Beard’s optimism that his team will improve upon its record is rooted in nearly a 30-member senior class, the largest during his tenure of the school.

Live Oak at Acadiana football playoffs Seth Cannon Dillan Monette

Live Oak linebacker Seth Cannon (15), a returning senior, tackles Acadiana running back Dillon Monette (1) during the Eagles' playoff game against the Rams.

He’s hopeful that by extending greater ownership to his most experience stakeholders, the Eagles will rediscover the same identity that enabled them to register previous postseason success against Ouachita Parish, Sulphur and East Ascension.

“I’ve explained this is not be backing off, but doing something a little different this offseason,” Beard said. “I want them to drive this and steer this. They’ve had a ride to the quarters, started ranked in the state and barely got into the playoffs as a 30 seed and getting beat in the first round. It’s not where you start but where you finish.

“We’re starting right now with a clean slate,” Beard said. “Deep down it’s got to bother you, there’s got to be that chip put back on your shoulder that we’re here to fight. We’re not going to be bigger, faster and stronger than everybody on Friday night, but we will outfight you. That’s how we’ve got to work every day so those Friday nights are easy.”

With its top two running backs returning, Kee Hawkins and Hagen Long along with all five starting offensive linemen back, Live Oak will be more reminiscent of years past with a physical style running game with senior Rhett Rosevear moving from wide receiver to quarterback.

The first two levels of the Eagles defense will have plenty of familiar faces led by senior nose guard Jalen Lee, a major college recruit, along senior Tyler Braun.

Senior Seth Cannon is also part of an experienced linebacker position along with converted safety Colin Dickerson. That group is without senior Gabe Kimble who is sidelined after suffering season-ending knee injury last season.

This marks the fifth straight season Live Oaks ends its spring drills with a scrimmage against East Ascension, which is coming an 11-2 season that included a run to the state quarterfinals.

“Our kids compete against what I think is the best in the state at EA and they probably get what they need against one of the more physical teams in Live Oak,” Beard said. “We get a great mix of football: athletes and hard-nosed kids and disciplined football. These are the type of teams you’re going to have to beat in the playoffs to win a state championship.”