DENHAM SPRINGS – Second-year Denham Springs football coach Bill Conides beamed with pride.
Just over three months after the Yellow Jackets came within an eyelash of a Class 5A state quarterfinal berth, the program enjoyed another victory of sorts when Conides watched five of his players declare their intentions to play college football.
Linebacker Brennan Leblanc and wide receiver Hunter Bond signed with Louisiana College, wide receiver DJ Williams with Blinn (Texas) Junior College, cornerback E.J. Burgess with East Texas Baptist and place-kicker Jose Ortega is headed to Northwestern State as a preferred walk-on during a ceremony Wednesday in the school’s gymnasium.
“This certainly ranks at the top,” Conides said of the priorityies for his program. “Every kid that plays high school football wants to play college football, but they don’t necessarily understand what it takes to get to that level. Whether it’s what you do on the field, in the weight room or in the class room. The kids that really embrace it and understand that want to make it a goal, it’s our job as coaches to make it happen for them.”
A year after Denham Springs had four players sign scholarships, this year’s team – which was 7-5 and hosted a state regional playoff game - raised the bar with the potential for more.
Counting the signature of Davion Nassri during the December signing period with Southeastern Louisiana, the Yellow Jackets have a total of six players ticketed for college with five more still weighing their options.
“Ultimately, the product that the college gets is getting a college football player,” Conides said. “Those kids know how to study, know how to lift, how to practice, they know what it takes to be successful. That’s one of my selling points of our program. When you get one of our kids, you’re getting a kid that knows what those expectations are. This is huge in what we try to accomplish.”
Leblanc, a two-time All-Parish and first team All-District 4-5A selection, enjoyed a productive final season with 119 tackles, 22 stops behind the line of scrimmage and five quarterback sacks.
“He knows ultimately, he wants to get into coaching, and he wasn’t done playing yet,” Conides said. “If you still want to play and can still play, then play. I think he’s going to gain some valuable experience in the next four years.”
Leblanc will be joined at Louisiana College by Bond, considered one of DSHS’ most dependable receivers. He caught 25 passes for 487 yards (19.5 per-catch average) and 5 touchdowns in nine games.
“He’s probably our best route runner,” Conides said. “He was very dependable when it came to catching passes. He showed his versatility as more than just a typical possession receiver, but a guy that can stretch the field vertically. People liked his athleticism.”
Williams, a one-time commitment to Northwestern State, endured a difficult end-of-the-recruiting process experience, one where his final destination wasn’t determined until signing day.
The first team All-District and All-Parish selection had 42 catches for 1,027 yards and 9 touchdowns.
“It’s a big-time school where (Carolina Panthers’ QB) Cam Newton went,” Conides said. “They had 17 kids sign Division I scholarships. First of all, it’s where he can go and learn how to be a college student. Secondly, he can get re-recruited at a different level. Things changed a lot in the last 48 hours. It was the second craziest signing day I’ve been part of.”
Burgess was a one-year starter at cornerback where he earned the respect of his peers – being voted team captain - through his diligence during the team’s offseason workouts and training in the weight room.
“He’s a shining example of a kid who had zero aspirations of playing college football, or even thinking he would have an opportunity to start,” Conides said. “His work ethic and grades opened the door.”
Ortega, a two-time All-Parish and first team All-District choice, will head to Natchitoches where the Demons found themselves in the market for a proven kicker.
Ortega totaled 62 points with 43 extra points and 6-of-9 field goals. He also handled the team’s kickoffs.
“He’s a guy with just raw talent,” Conides said. “He’s got a very strong leg and colleges are looking for good kickers. Northwestern was looking for a kicker. They’re excited to get him.”
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