DSHS Cecilia Reese Mooney Ray McKneely.jpg

Denham Springs High quarterback Reese Mooney hands off to Ray McKneely during Friday's game.

It goes without saying that this game week will be much different for the Denham Springs football program, which hosts Franklinton on Friday, just days after the death of defensive coordinator Brian Smith, who battled cancer.

“It’s another loss for the program, but more importantly that just a coach, he was my best friend and my kids’ godfather,” DSHS coach Brett Beard said. “He was family. It hit me (Tuesday) driving to work, for the first time in 10 years, I was coming to work without him. Friday night’s going to be hard on a few us because he won’t be in the box with us for the first time.

“The man wanted to just get it right,” Beard continued. “He wanted to take care of all these kids and wanted to teach these kids and show these kids. You read some of Tweets and stuff about him, that sums him up in every way possible. We lost a good man. We lost an old school, tough man that loved hard and played hard. I think he really did an amazing job with life here on earth, and he’s a huge addition to heaven.”

Smith coached with Beard at Woodlawn, Live Oak and Denham Springs.

“You know I love Smitty,” Beard said. “That was my boy and forever will be. We had some great runs and did some great things. I’m forever thankful for our friendship and the bond that we had. I’ll love him forever and be appreciative, and we had a lot of fun together.”

Smith was in his second season as the Yellow Jackets’ defensive coordinator and was diagnosed with cancer in November of 2016. Beard said he also battled COVID, which took a toll on his body.

“He just had so many things that he had to deal with, and with COVID and everything, these guys weren’t exactly able to get to know him as much as I wished they could have and see a healthy Smitty,” Beard said. “Live Oak got five years with him and got to see him healthy and got to see him really work and entrenched in that program and community. Here, he had such a battle that he wasn’t able to really make the impact as strong as it was going to be had it been normal circumstances.”

The Yellow Jackets (1-1) head into Friday’s 7 p.m. game coming off a 48- 44 loss to Cecilia in which the Yellow Jackets led 44-33 in the fourth quarter.

“By no means are we taking a moral victory away from it,” Beard said. “I’m not big on moral victories. We’re done with all that. You compete and you run the race to win, not to get a moral victory. Is there growth? This time last year some may say we could have been beaten by 30 by that team, so we get to the fourth quarter with an 11 point lead with a chance to win a football game, and there’s growth to said in that because that was a big-time opponent in a big time atmosphere, and I was really, really proud of the way we competed. I was really proud of the way we got after it and played for 48 minutes and had an opportunity to win a football game. It had been a little while against a big-time opponent that we had a chance to win.”

Beard said the loss also brought some things to light for his team.

“What you take away from that the idea of what are you going to do to get us over that hump?,” Beard said. “What are we still missing? Why are we making the mistakes we’re making at critical times? Is it the way we practice? Are we as coaches letting them get away with things in practice that are rearing its head on Friday night …? The way you practice and the way you prepare is how you’re going to play on Friday night. There’s no such thing as flipping a switch. There’s no such thing as gamers. That’s all a lie in athletics. It’s dudes that prepare, that work and play the game the right way, period. There’s no way around it. I’ve played this game at every level, and I’m a believer in that, so we’ve got to go back to the drawing board and get back to the basics, starting with myself and with these coaches and on down on how we practice, how we prepare.”

Beard has some familiarity with Franklinton having coached there early in his career under Shane Smith.

“I’ve got a lot of love for the Demons, I really do,” Beard said. “I (think about) back to those days all the time when I was not even a good coach. I had a lot to learn and thought I was good, and I was terrible.”

The Demons (1-2) are coming off a 48-42 loss to Bogalusa

“They’ve got some skill,” Beard said. “They’re athletic. I like their quarterback. He’s a dual threat guy that can beat you both ways, and they’ve got the little slots that can run. They’re going to run the jet sweep and things that kind of remind me of the old days. They’re going to set everything up and set everything off of it. You’ve got to be disciplined. You’ve got to be disciplined back side. You’ve got to be disciplined front side. You’ve got to be aware of when you’ve got the motion. You’ve got to know where it’s coming from, and sometimes you get caught on the backside wanting to chase that, and the quarterback pulls it, he’s out the gate … There’s a lot of little things you have to be disciplined with that they almost lull you to sleep and then hit you with it.”

Beard is also familiar with the Demons’ defensive coordinator, Steven Burris, who held the same position when Beard was on the Franklinton coaching staff.

“I watch the film, I still see a lot of similarities,” Beard said. “It’s amazing how time goes on, some things don’t change, but I think Burris has gotten a lot better at what he does running that 3-3 stack and having some linebackers that are athletic and DBs that are athletic. They’re going to be fun to watch. They’re going to be fun to coach against. It’s going to be a great atmosphere.”

The importance of Friday’s game isn’t lost on Beard, and he knows there’s a fine line to walk regarding the team’s emotions heading into the contest.

“We have a lot to play for here,” he said. “Since I came here, we’ve dealt with some circumstances the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. Our guys are starting to understand the even keel and just handling the ups and downs as real and as even as possible. We’re going to continue to do that again Friday night. I think the best thing you can do is continue to pay our respects to our fallen by giving them everything you can and competing at a very high level and not letting the emotions of the game or what’s going on outside to eat us alive and just pay your respects by doing things the right way at a level they have yet to do.”

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