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Gators have new names in new positions


Key offensive players for the South Terrebonne Gators this season are senior quarterback James LeBlanc (clockwise, from left), junior tight end Chandler Arceneaux, senior offensive guard Adam Ziepke, junior running back Justin Johnson and senior center Cade Hebert. (Photo by Chris Singleton/Staff)


BOURG — South Terrebonne's depth chart is filled with new names in new positions this season.

Gone are familiar names like former quarterback Trevon Smith, running back Jaquis Flores and linebackers Devin Leger and Zachary LeBouef.

Those players, who were four of 20 seniors, helped guide the Gators to a 9-3 record and a Class 4A first-round playoff win last season.

Entering the 2012 season, those players have been replaced by new leaders in key positions, such as new quarterback James LeBlanc, running back Justin Johnson and linebacker Cullen Bergeron.

It's a new season, and South Terrebonne coach Richard Curlin said it's time for a new group of players to take over the reigns as leaders.

"We are a little younger this year," said Curlin, who is entering his 23rd year as Gators head coach. "We lost some good seniors from last year, but we've got some young kids that are going to step up and fill some of the positions that we need them to fit into."

Curlin's message has clearly been heard by his players.

LeBlanc, a senior, is set to take over a Gators offense that generated 4,605 total yards (3,471 rushing, 1,134 passing) last season. South Terrebonne returns only two starters (senior fullback Channing Champagne and senior offensive guard Adam Ziepke) off that squad.

LeBlanc said the new leaders of the team don't feel pressure in trying to duplicate last year's success.

"I think we are trying to create our own identity," LeBlanc said. "I know we lost a lot of good players, but I think we have a solid group returning."

Curlin said LeBlanc, who played tight end in his junior season before becoming the starting quarterback, is slowly becoming more confident in the Gators' Wing-T system.

"It's going to be a process," Curlin said. "James is a good athlete, but it's a learning process. He did pretty well in the seven-on-seven during the summer time. It's going to be a matter of him getting into games and getting more experience."

Curlin is also expecting big plays from Johnson and Champagne, who both will get plenty of carries as runners out the backfield.

"Justin played running back later in the season for us, and he looked good at times doing that," Curlin said. "We expect big things out of him. Channing is a bruiser at fullback. He had several big games for us last year."

Johnson, who said he is motivated to break several team rushing records held by former South Terrebonne star Phillip Livas, said the team is starting to come together.

"Everyone is excited and ready to show what we can do," Johnson said. "We have a lot of people ready to step up, so we should be pretty good."

South Terrebonne's running attack will be anchored by Ziepke, a first-team All-District and All-State selection.

Curlin said Ziepke could see time at both offensive guard and tackle this season.

"Wherever we have him at, we're probably going to run behind him," Curlin said. "He's that good."

Despite losing many key players, Ziepke said the Gators have the potential to do well.

"I think if we cut out all the playing around and get more serious in practice, I think we can win district and probably go farther in the playoffs," he said.

On defense, South Terrebonne will return four starters in Bergeron, junior linebacker David McCormick Jr., free safety Kurt Arceneaux (team high five interceptions last season) and defensive end Sam White.

Curlin said losing Leger (108 tackles) and several other defensive players was tough, but some of the returning players gained valuable playing experience last year.

"We lost some good linebackers last year, but we have some kids that got some playing time in last year, but they really got to step up this year," he said.

Bergeron said he is ready to take responsibility as a team leader on defense.

"Being a senior this year, I want to be a leader," Bergeron said. "On our defense, the linebackers are key players. (Defensive coordinator David) McCormick wants us to be leaders. I'm just keep working and try to take what I learned from Zachary and Devin and try to teach the younger guys."

South Terrebonne's special teams will be led by kicker and punter Matthew Benoit, who made 3-of-8 field goals with a long of 46 yards and averaged 33.7 yards per punt last season.

South Terrebonne finished second overall in District 8-4A last season, with its only district loss coming to Assumption.

Curlin said he expects another challenging schedule this season, but he knows his players are going to give it their best shot.

"Every year is a different team, and we don't really know how they are going to react yet, but I'm confident that we're going to play well," Curlin said. "These kids are hard workers, and we're going to continue to improve. That's the same way we do it every year. We'll play the first game, and we'll take it from there. One week at a time."