Zachary High and Central High finished at opposite ends of the Class 5A playoffs last season, but the schools will begin their 2018 quest for distinction with several factors in common.
Both schools return experienced junior quarterbacks. Zachary’s Keilon Brown hopes to lead a repeat performance of last season’s Class 5A state championship while Central left-hander Sam Kenerson looks to guide the Wildcats to a deep run after a first-round loss last year.
And, for both teams, the road to the playoffs will start next week with a team-oriented retreat, a three-day getaway that is equal parts football, recreation and communication. With the start of school two weeks away, both teams hope an environment free of distractions will promote bonding among its players.
“We use it as a team bonding deal. We’re together for three nights,” said Central coach Sid Edwards, who first began the practice in 1998 as head coach at Redemptorist. This year, the Wildcats will be at Milldale Baptist Church Retreat Center in Zachary.
“We do seven-on-seven drills, we do football-related stuff, but we spend a lot of time in group sessions. It’s the Catholic school in me coming out,” Edwards said.
Zachary travels to King’s Arrow Ranch in Lumberton, Mississippi, marking the 15th year that Broncos coach David Brewerton has secluded his team in the preseason. Brewerton’s teams have won two state championships in the past three years, as did Edwards’ squads while at Redemptorist, when employing a preseason retreat.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for our team to spend some time away from Zachary and work on some team bonding stuff, and also get the kids out of their comfort zone a little bit,” Brewerton said. “They’re not sleeping in their own beds and they’re not eating mom’s cooking every night. It’s an opportunity for them to focus on each other, and team goals that they’re going to set.
“We feel like we’ve gotten a lot out of it.”
The results are a testament to that.
In Brewerton’s four seasons at Zachary, the Broncos won state titles in 2015 and 2017, and reached the semifinals in the other two seasons. Prior to that, Brewerton’s Class 3A Livonia teams advanced to the 2012 semifinals and the 2013 championship game.
Edwards, who always seems to get the most out of his teams, won championships at Redemptorist in 2002 and 2003. Since moving to Central in 2007, the Wildcats have a quarterfinal and two semifinal appearances to their credit.
The Wildcats have also engineered two of the bigger playoff upsets in recent seasons.
In 2011, No. 32 Central defeated top-seeded St. Paul’s 35-28 in a first-round at Covington. In 2013, No. 11 Central picked up an upset playoff win at West Monroe by the score of 14-0 in the second round.
Those seasons began as this one will, with the team taking three days to get away from outside interference.
“I try to break them down not so much physically, but mentally, and try to get them talking,” Edwards said. “There are no cell phones, no electronics, no headsets, no boom boxes. It’s kind of how we grew up where if something’s going to come out of your mouth you’re talking to another human being.”
Zachary will have spartan accommodations, as well, and will stay in log cabins. Still, the preseason retreat has become popular with the Broncos players.
“It’s kind of a rite of passage for the players in our program,” Brewerton said. “They know that we’re always going to close summer conditioning with our annual fall camp. They look forward to it now, and they know when that camp ends we’re just a couple of weeks away from lining it up with someone else.”