Belaire linebackers

Belaire linebackers (from left): Deandre Besseye, Jekeldrick Powell, Dontre Thompson, Devante Wyatt and Jekeydrick Richard.

BATON ROUGE – After taking several hits the past two years, some self-inflicted and some not, Belaire High’s football team will enter the 2018 season with modest expectations.

If playing in District 4-5A, one of the state’s toughest 5A districts, weren’t enough, Belaire has had to overcome sanctions levied by the LHSAA. School enrollment is also down leaving the Bengals with fewer athletes to shore up its roster.

It all adds up to a season where fielding a competitive team might not be reflected in the final record.

The LHSAA problems began in 2016 and resulted in abrupt to changes for the team and its coaching staff. After a 5-1 start, Belaire’s best in 10 years, the school was cited for the use of ineligible players, and also for improper paperwork regarding other players and assistant coaches.

Belaire was ordered to forfeit its first five wins in 2016 and limped to a 1-3 finish over the final portion of the season. In 2017, Belaire went 2-8 after enduring probation and a fine.

Through it all, Kevin Jackson has been there for the Bengals. He was elevated from assistant coach to interim head coach after the first six games of 2016. Last season, the interim tag was removed, and he returns for a second full season to lead the Bengals.

“We’re basically starting over,” Jackson said. “We don’t have as many players, so we’ve got to do the best with what we have. We want our coaches to get the kids thinking about winning more than anything else. It’s been a challenge, but it’s coming along. Not as fast as I’d like, but its progressing.”

Belaire High School backfield

Belaire High's starting backfield (from left): Keston Johnston, running back, Jamal Brown, quarterback, and Jekeldrick Powell, running back.

In jamboree action last week against Broadmoor, Belaire had trouble slowing down the Buccaneers rushing attack. The Bengals were also hurt by turnovers in a 12-0 setback. Still, it was a game that won’t count in the standings but will count as the first step toward preparation for improvement in the regular season, which begins this week at White Castle.

“I think we’ll do a much better job this week,” Jackson said. “I think the butterflies kind of got us against Broadmoor. In some situations, we were out of position, but we’ve watched the film. We should have a much better performance against White Castle.”

Followed by meetings with Northeast and Brusly, the White Castle game is one of three non-district contests Belaire will play to open its season.

Six of the remaining seven games will be against District 4-5A foes, all of whom made the 2017 playoffs and all on the road. Included in that group are 5A champion Zachary, 5A quarterfinalist Live Oak, and Division I semifinalist Scotlandville.

Expected to lead the way on offense are a trio of seniors on each side of the ball. Quarterback Jamal Brown, running back Keston Johnson and wide receiver Tremell Harrell are being counted on for offensive production while the defense has linebackers Deondre Besseye and Deangelo Wicks, and defensive back Robert Bradley.

The question mark for the Bengals is their line play, where fewer students have affected the Bengals overall roster.

Since Istrouma High reopened in 2017, Belaire has seen its enrollment drop below 5A level. According to Jackson, the Bengals overall roster has about 50 players, a number he expects to be smaller than what he sees on opposing 5A sidelines.

“We still need to patch up our line play. That’s where depth has hurt us,” Jackson said. “We don’t have as many linemen, so we find ourselves trying to turn our bigger skill guys into linemen. Once we get that down I think things will go smoother, but we’ve got to cross that hurdle first.”