2021 Live Oak football team

The 2021 Live Oak football team.

WATSON -Live Oak was the only football team in Livingston Parish to make the football playoffs last season, and while that was nice in Blane Westmoreland’s first season as coach at his alma mater, he’d like to make a bit deeper postseason run this year.

“Making the playoffs again, that’s always where you start,” said Westmoreland, whose team opens the season at Pearl River Central (Miss.) at 7 p.m. Friday, said. “Then it’s win games in November and practice on Thanksgiving. That’s always been the goal. That’s the goal of everybody to have those dreams and aspirations of playing on the carpet in New Orleans. We’ve just got to take it one game at a time and see where the cards fall in November and go from there. We’re excited for this season. We return a number of guys. We’ve just got to put our best foot forward and stay healthy.”

The Eagles are sticking with a wing-T scheme on offense and return eight starters on that side of the ball.

But maybe the biggest question mark for the Eagles is at quarterback, where senior Tyler Graves and freshman Sawyer Pruitt have both taken snaps in the team’s preseason scrimmage and jamboree.

“You’ve got a senior who’s never started, and you’ve got a freshman who’s a freshman,” Westmoreland said. “Now, the freshman has played beyond his years, and Tyler has done a very good job. The thing is that neither has won the job, but neither has done anything to lose the job. At some point in time, we’re really hoping over the next week to two weeks there is some separation for us to be able to name a starter, but right now, I think you’re going to see what we saw (in the preseason) is they’re both going to split time and we go from there. I’m not a big believer in a two quarterback system, but until someone separates themself in the next week or so, that’s what we’re going to have to do.”

The backfield features a number of returnees, including Daylen Lee, T.J. Magee and Bentz Borne, with Lane Hilbun and Braden Jones also in the mix.

“All those guys have seen action on Friday nights in the past, so that’s a huge positive, and the next positive is there’s only one senior and it’s T.J.,” Westmoreland said. “Once again, T.J. is probably our most dynamic tailback that we have, probably our most dynamic athlete we have, but it’s good that we have these guys that we can spell T.J. We can spell Bentz and Lane and rotate a number of guys in. They all things that they do very well, but they also complement each other, so we are very excited about the depth in our backfield.”

South Alabama commitment Chris Davis Jr., Chase Jones and Terrance Snowden will be the Eagles’ main receivers.

“C.J. is an outstanding young man,” Westmoreland said. “Great player for us, offense, defense, special teams, he just wants to be on the field and help contribute to the team. Chase Jones is another kid who plays hard and does a very good job, and then Terrance Snowden came out last year and has really come into his own and understands the game. He’s going to compete and battle for playing time. Kyvan Lee’s another guy that’s going to compete and battle, so we’ve got some senior wide receivers that we’re excited about.

“The biggest thing is that we could have Calvin Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald, if we can’t get the ball to them, it doesn’t really matter, so we’ve got to make sure we get our quarterbacks where they need to be and get our protection where it needs to be,” Westmoreland continued.

The Eagles also return a number of veterans on the offensive line, led by guards Andy Retecki and Jake Aldy, tackles Nathan Curtis and Brody Ray and tight end Cody Flurry.

Sophomores Caleb Rioux and Dylan McKay are vying for the starting nod at center.

“It’s been a good battle,” Westmoreland said of the duo’s work at center. “We’ve just got to kind of see where we go from here. I’m excited to see where our offensive line goes. When you return that many guys and it’s the second year in the system and they know the calls and they know what’s going on, it’s what you want.”

Westmoreland said being in the second year of the system has also helped the entire offense in terms of growth.

“I think any time you’re going into anything past year one, you can build faster,” he said. “You don’t have to go back and teach as much. You go back and touch on it, but at this time last year, we’re just still teaching trying to figure out how to block buck sweep and G right and trying to get that down pat. Instead of being able to grow off of it, we’re trying to teach that part. For us, it’s really just being able to grow off of what we do with what our base is, so now instead of having to just spend so much time on … the base, we’re able to expand and grow. We’re excited for year two.”

Defensively, the Eagles return seven starters in their 3-4 scheme.

“The guys know the system,” Westmoreland said. “They know what’s going on. They know the calls. They know the checks. For them, it’s just having to execute. This is going into year seven of running the 3-4, so they know what to do. They know where to go.”

Luke Ydarraga and Caleb Smith return at the defensive ends, while Brady Odell and Kylin Richardson will split time at nose guard.

“Odell is going to play a little offense and defense,” Westmoreland said. “Kylin came back out as a junior and had some time last year. Now he’s come into his own, and he’s going to get a shot. Both of those guys are going to be able to play and both have shown very good things in spring and in fall camp. It’s always good to have a rotation of guys, and that’s what we’ve got there. We’re excited for our defensive line. We’ve got to be able to get in there and make plays, keep them off our linebackers so our linebackers can go in there and make a play.”

Will Andrepont, Braden Robinson, Kash Doiron and Tyler Maher make up the linebacking corps.

“Those guys work really well together, but we are youthful with Tyler being a sophomore, but the other three are seniors,” Westmoreland said. “We’ve got that experience there. We’ve got two guys back that started last year (Andrepont and Doiron), one guy that’s a sophomore and one that it’s his first time to start (Robinson). It’s a good group of guys for sure.”

Westmoreland summed up the Live Oak secondary in one word: ‘Experience.”

Safety Aiden Saunders is a four-year starter, while cornerbacks Magee and Davis are both two-year starters. Skyler Martin, the other safety, started as a sophomore and saw significant playing time as a freshman.

“All four of those guys have seen Friday night lights,” Westmoreland said. “All four of those guys have seen playoff action, so you feel good when those guys are on that back end.”

Westmoreland pointed out this year’s seniors were freshmen in 2018 when he went back to Live Oak as an assistant coach, and he’s hoping they can make this season memorable.

“We want to make noise when it matters,” he said, noting there are 28 seniors this season. “Winning games in the regular season is very important. Winning district games and winning district championships, all that stuff, is very important, but we want to win games when it gets cold. We want to win those games in November. We want our guys to experience things they haven’t experienced before.”

“I want to see these guys go out the way they deserve to go out.”

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