All three Natchitoches Parish schools in action tonight in jamboree at NSU

BACK TO ACTION:  After a breakthrough season in 2021, the Natchitoches Central Chiefs are hoping to establish a winning culture with a strong 2022 performance.  

By DWAIN SPILLMAN JR., Journal Sports

Are you ready for some football?

The season starts in earnest next week, but today, the final tune-up looks like the real thing.

The Natchitoches Regional Medical Center Jamboree kicks off tonight at NSU’s Turpin Stadium with all three parish schools set for competition. St. Mary’s is slated for its annual clash with parish rival Lakeview in the opener, kicking off at 6 p.m.

Natchitoches Central faces off with Shreveport’s Loyola College Prep in the nightcap scheduled for 7 p.m.

Spring practice, summer workouts and 7-on-7 competitions are in the books.

Currently, fall practice is like a freight liner picking up speed and barreling down the track to its destination. It is time to get this party — the 2022 version — started.

“It’s go time,” St. Mary’s head coach Aaron York said this week as he begins his fifth season with the Tigers. “I am just ready for football.”

That seems to be the general consensus among our area’s coaches and teams. The excitement of kicking off this season is culminating daily as the Tigers, Chiefs and Gators can now see the official kickoff on the gridiron horizon.

“We are just ready to get back out there on the field,“ said NCHS head coach James Wilkerson, who is in his third season. “We did not end last season like we wanted to, so we are just ready to get back to full speed action.”

Lakeview head coach Brandon Helms said he’s proud of the Gators offseason work.

“This can be a very exciting year for us,” said Helms, who is in his fifth season with the Gators. “I am pleased with our preparation. A key to our season is that we are able to stay healthy.”

In tonight’s opener, St. Mary’s continues to renew its jamboree rivalry with Lakeview, which is just 15 miles from the other’s front door.

The Tigers are coming off of a successful campaign in 2021 in which they posted an overall 8-3 record and made the playoffs.

York said it’s time to get down the business. A Week 1 meeting with Class 3A powerhouse Abbeville is just around the corner.

”Our kids are upbeat,” York said. “You can just tell from the huge support we have had, especially during the steak supper and (last Friday’s) scrimmage, everyone from our coaches, players, faculty, and community are just excited to start the season.”

The Gators are hoping to improve on their 2021 effort, posting one win against nine losses a year ago.

Helms added that the annual parish jamboree meeting between the Gators and Tigers is a positive.

“It’s exciting. The parish fans get to see all of our kids out there on the field at one time,” Helms said. “The kids really look forward to playing against friends and kids they have known their whole lives.“

The Chiefs face a formidable opponent in Shreveport’s Flyers in tonight’s grand finale.

A perennial threat on the Class 2A level, Loyola comes into the jam session after an 8-4 season a year ago. Coach Scott Mallien’s Flyers advanced to the second round of the playoffs where they bowed out to Vanderbilt Catholic of Houma.

The Chiefs kicked off the 2021 season by posting a 6-0 record and gained much-deserved attention in the Class 5A rankings. After an injury at quarterback, the Chiefs lost four of their last five contests, including a first-round playoff defeat.

However, the playoff appearance was the first for the Chiefs in the last seven seasons, and they have high hopes of starting a playoff trend in the other direction this season.

“We are just ready to get back to full speed,” Wilkerson said. “Things are slower in practice and scrimmages. Everyone in our program is ready to get back to competition.”

Following tonight’s meeting with the Flyers, the Chiefs open the 2022 season at home on Sept. 2 against Woodlawn (Shreveport). The Chiefs dominated the Knights in the 2021 meeting 34-0.