Chiefs travel north on I-49 for season opener under Curtis

Photo by KEVIN SHANNAHAN, Natchitoches Parish Journal

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By DWAIN SPILLMAN JR., Journal Sports

This week, the game counts.

Natchitoches Central’s Chiefs are excited to kick off the 2023 high school football season. And, this week, after a scrimmage two weeks ago and the annual jamboree last Friday, it’s for real.

Head coach Jess Curtis, in his first season as the tribe’s battlefield commander, will guide the local maroon and gold clad prepsters as they travel northward on I-49 to meet head on with the Knights of Woodlawn Leadership Academy of Shreveport.

Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. tonight on the brand-new artificial turf field at Booker T. Washington’s Leonard Barnes Stadium.

“This week’s game will be another big test for us,” Curtis said. “We need to take another step toward our goal of getting better each week. This game starts the season where wins and losses count. And, our first one is on the road. The games just get tougher every week from there on and we need to be prepared. We need to start the new season 1-0. It’s just that simple.”

After a “very beneficial” summer in the weight room followed by a solid fall camp, the Chiefs saw success during last week’s jamboree bout and have improved steadily under their new boss. However, Curtis added there are many facets of the Chiefs’ game that must improve.

“We really got after it in the weight room this summer,” Curtis added. “That work is what really is going to transform our kids. We felt really good after coming out of our scrimmage against Pineville and then I was very pleased that we held a program like Loyola to just four yards of total offense last week. That says a lot for the way our defense played against a very well-coached Loyola team. We just need to continue to improve in all areas and we can’t rest on what we have done so far. Now it counts and we have big games coming down the road.”

When reviewing Woodlawn, the Chiefs’ first opposition in a new leadership era on the gridiron, Curtis said, “Their team is full of talented athletes and they have very good speed. Everything goes through their quarterback and we have to stop him on Friday night.”

NCHS holds a two-year advantage over the Knights in their recent history, claiming an 18-14 decision a year ago while blanking Woodlawn 34-0 with two defensive TDs a season before (2021).

The Knights are an historically acclaimed program of the 1960’s through the 1980’s in the Shreveport-Bossier area, winning a state championship in 1968. Notable players passing through the halls in the Knights castle have included Terry Bradshaw, Joe Ferguson, Lawrence Hart and Vic Minor. Legendary and hall of fame coaches Lee Hedges and A. L. Williams also helped lead Woodlawn to multiple district championships during their tenures with many more playoff appearances. But, in more recent times, the Knights have dropped down from the largest football classification in the LHSAA to the Class 4A level and have been searching for wins, as well as winning seasons for more than two decades.

However, this year’s Knights roster is filled with speed and physicality. Woodlawn is also captained by senior signal caller Isaiah Kennedy (Sr., 6-1, 160) who has caught the eye of several interested onlookers with his dynamic play in last week’s jamboree action.

The Knights are guided by veteran head coach Thedrick Harris, starting his third season. He has spent previous years leading Marshall (Texas), Shreveport’s Southwood and Huntington after finishing his playing career at Louisiana Tech. The Knights are on the upswing and will provide a major challenge to the Chiefs as the new season gets underway in a hurry.

“We are building a program here,” Harris said. “I have preached to our kids that I always want us to put our best foot forward and play to the best of our ability. We have a huge challenge facing us going into Friday night. We understand what we are going up against.”

In reference to what the Knights are facing Friday night, Harris graciously concluded, “NCHS has always been a storied program even though records have not necessarily been very good in the recent years. They have always been a very good team, win or lose.

“Natchitoches Central will be very well coached with coach Curtis coming over from Many. We have great respect for him and his teams. We will be ready and are excited to see just where we are at this point.”