Denham Springs football returns to field, bright lights after historic flooding

“Normal” isn’t a word that’s being tossed around Denham Springs lately.

Ever since historic flooding hit the southern portion of Louisiana in mid-August, the entire region has been working to get back to some semblance of normalcy.

Although life has been anything but.

Denham Springs football team rallies around goal post

The Denham Springs football team will begin its season Friday, during Week 2 action, after working back from historic flooding in the area last month. (Mark Clements)

A small piece of that will change Friday though, as one of the area’s strongest uniting factors returns to the city: high school football.

It may not seem like much of a big deal, but anyone from the city or surrounding area knows what the Yellow Jackets mean to the community.

“When you talk about Friday night lights and high school football across the country, the communities that have the one high school that’s based in their city, there’s a lot of pride like that everywhere,” said head coach Dru Nettles. “Denham Springs is no exception. It’s a special place.”

When the clock strikes 7 p.m. and the ball is teed up for the opening kickoff, it’s not only going to signify the start of a new football season for Denham Springs.

No, it’s so much more than that.

It represents the beginning of a new chapter of life for the community. Life post-flood.

It’s the first of many steps to prove the city can – and will – rebuild.

It’s a sign that things will slowly begin returning to normal, while simultaneously never being the same.

If you thought the Denham Springs community was tight-knight before the tragic events of the past month, just wait until they’re finally brought together again in one place, with one common interest.

“Our school and community go hand-in-hand in all that we do,” Nettles said. “Everybody will be proud to see the Denham Springs team out there playing and representing this school. It’s going to get things started for the 2016 season, and a restart to the future and what things will be.”

GETTING BACK TO BALL

No one was quite sure what was going to happen.

Forget football. Would the students of Denham Springs even be able to return to school this semester?

An estimated 90 percent of the roughly 10,000 residents of the city were affected by the torrential rainfall and subsequent flooding.

Just about everyone was displaced for a few days, at minimum. Most returned to their homes to find nearly everything ruined.

aerial view of flooded Denham Springs High School

An estimated 90 percent of Denham Springs’ residents were affected by torrential rain and historic flooding this August. (Courtesy of Denham Springs High School)

The following days were filled with long hours gutting houses, ripping drywall and asking questions.

“It was kind of all a question mark,” said junior quarterback Cameron Feucht. “It was crazy. You don’t know what’s going to happen. The whole season, what’s going to happen? We were wondering if we were even going to have football at our school in the next two or three months.”

Nettles had the same questions.

But there was one thing he did know: If it was even the slightest hope for football to play in 2016, he was determined to make it happen.

“We knew if at all possible, if we could get things in order, we wanted to play,” Nettles said. “We weren’t going to rush into it and try to get the jamboree or first game in and put the kids in a difficult situation, but we had all intentions of getting back to playing. These kids have invested a lot of time. Friday nights, high school football and high school sports in general – those kids deserve the opportunity to play games. You hate for an event to take something away.”

Less than two weeks after Denham Springs’ campus was under water, the Yellow Jackets were back on the practice field, working to play catch up for the time they had missed and preparing to take on the 2016 season.

With some added motivation, of course.

PLAYING FOR THE PEOPLE

It was exactly what the players wanted to hear.

After receiving just about nothing but bad news for several days, getting the notice that they would indeed play football in 2016 not only ignited the team, but it gave the community a much-needed shot in the arm, something positive to look forward to.

Denham Spring teacher/coach cries in flooded classroom

Denham Springs teacher and track coach Sarah Batty cried upon returning to her classroom and seeing the damage caused by August’s historic flooding. (Courtesy of Sarah Batty)

“We were still wondering what was going to happen, and I remember my dad telling me that he talked to some people and them saying that we need to have a football season,” Feucht said. “We need to have a football season for the community. Just to have something to be there for the community to get their minds off (the floods). Football is a big deal, and people love their football, so we need to have a season for them. It was good just to know that Coach Nettles got us back out here and we’re going to have football.”

Any high school coach will tell you that more than scoring points or winning games, their No. 1 goal as the leader of a team is to build character in their players.

But there’s some life lessons can’t be taught on a field.

Every player that suits up for the Yellow Jackets this Friday will have been affected by the flood in some way.

It won’t be one team rallying around the tragedy of one player. It’ll be a band of brothers coming together having all been through the same disaster.

And they’ll not only be fighting for each other, but for everyone who has suffered in their city.

Dumpster outside of Denham Springs field house

Denham Springs High School is still working to rebuild physically in many ways from the flood damage incurred last month. (Mark Clements)

“This team had a special bond, and I think they even got tighter,” Nettles said. “When you’re put in a situation where you have to rely upon the guy to your right and your left, in front and behind you, it gets even closer. That’s what you preach about team, and that’s what you hope to build throughout any sports season. These guys got it with life lessons plus their team. This is a close-knit group, and I know they’ll fight and claw the best they can to represent this school and community to the very best.”

After all that’s transpired, it’s only fitting that Denham Springs opens the season on its home turf.

The Yellow Jackets were slated to play at East Ascension in Week 1, but had to sacrifice that game – along with their preseason scrimmage and jamboree – due to flooding.

Needless to say, Denham Springs (the team and the community) are three-weeks hungry for some football.

“(Friday) is probably going to be the most amount of fans we’ve ever had throughout Denham,” said senior quarterback Parker Simoneaux. “It’s going to be something that’s going to put our community back on its feet, and it’s just going to get them behind the school and behind us. It’s going to be good.”

That’s the sentiment resonating throughout the team in the days and hours leading up to opening kickoff.

Feucht only had two words to describe what football means to the local community.

“It’s everything.”

THE GAME

Despite being roughly three weeks behind schedule, the vibe around the Denham Springs program was a positive one this week.

A fast-approaching kickoff to the 2016 season was tangible at practice Thursday morning, and ESPN cameras and reporters have been on hand to further spotlight the Yellow Jackets’ rebound and rally from tragedy.

Things are starting to come together on the field, too, as the coaching staff and players alike have been working to get back up to speed.

QB Cameron Feucht throws passes

Denham Springs senior quarterback Cameron Feucht throws passes Thursday morning during practice. (Mark Clements)

“Most people get the scrimmage, the jamboree and Week 1, so they’re three weeks ahead,” Nettles said. “We’ll see. There will be some first-game mistakes. There will be some moments that we’ll have to clean up, but the excitement is going to be there, the passion is going to be there. Now we’ve got to control that emotion and play the game. It still comes down to fundamentals. We’ve got a lot of first-time starters that are going to play on a Friday night. We’ll learn a lot (Friday), and we’ll move forward.”

Tara, who hasn’t posted a win since Week 6 of the 2014 season, enters the game with an 0-1 record after dropping a 24-20 contest to Baker in Week 1.

Denham Springs will be looking to bounce back from its 5-5 season a year ago and start things off on the right foot against the Trojans, who they beat 50-0 in 2015.

And don’t think for a second the Yellow Jackets are making any excuses for the 2016 campaign.

“If anything this adds to our goals, to just do it for the community,” Feuchts said. “We want to bring this community back, so our goals don’t change.”

And what are those goals exactly?

“We’re still thinking ‘Win a championship,’” said Simoneaux.

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Mark Clements can be reached at MCleme9@gmail.com.


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