Southwest La. multi-sport athletes shine in spring

Published 4:00 pm Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Warren Arceneaux

One of the best aspects of covering high school sports is seeing the area’s best athletes compete in various sports. Due to the rise of year-round travel baseball over the past two decades, AAU basketball and the recent proliferation of football events such as 7-on-7 tournaments and recruiting combines, specialization among athletes has become more common.

Specialization is dangerous for a variety of reasons, primarily the health — both physical and mental, of the athletes themselves.

Thankfully, this spring seems to have brought a reversal to that trend. Some of the area’s top junior football recruits such as Trevor Etienne and Trevonte Citizen, are participating in spring sports, with Etienne playing on the Jennings baseball team and Citizen running track for Lake Charles College Prep.

The Trail Blazers are aptly named in this instance, as their track and baseball team rosters are filled with stars from football. Even seniors Dillon Simon and Jaylen Joseph, with football scholarships (Simon signed with McNeese as a quarterback, Joseph with Grambling as a receiver) already locked up, are competing in track and baseball, respectively. Simon is among the area leaders in both the 100 and 200. Citizen — who has more than a dozen offers from national football powers such as Tulane, LSU, Penn State, Michigan, USC, Auburn, Texas and Texas A&M — is among the leaders in the 200 and runs on Blazer relay teams. Offensive lineman Marcus Francis is the area’s leader in the shot put.

Other gridiron stars, such as St. Louis running back/infielder Evan Joubert, are harboring hopes of moving on to the next level in their spring sport.

A pair of three-sport athletes, Iowa’s Crajuan Bennett and DeRidder’s Deron Griffin, are among the area’s leaders in track and field. Bennett won the 200-meter race at the Taussig Relays last week, coming out ahead in a loaded field that included Simon and another two-sport star in St. Louis sprinter Wesley Maze, who will play football at UL-Lafayette in the fall. Griffin is finishing up a terrific school year. He was an All-Southwest Louisiana selection as a defensive lineman in football and was named District 3-4A MVP in basketball after averaging a double-double for the Dragons.

Leesville’s Caleb Gallashaw, another All-Southwest Louisiana selection in football, holds the top area mark in the 100. Kinder’s Bryce Savant, a standout lineman/punter for the Jackets’ Class 2A runner-up football team, is the leader in discus. Westlake’s Tristan Goodly, a defensive back/receiver in football, holds the best triple-jump mark in the area this year.

On the girls side, Barbe softball star Nyjah Fontenot, an Arkansas commitment, is among the 100-meter leaders with a time of 12.91 seconds. Tia Reder of St. Louis was a starter on the Saints state championship basketball team and leads the area in the long jump with a best mark of 16 feet, 8 inches. The Saints are among the leading contenders for the 3A girls state championship in track and field. Reder also runs legs on the Saints 4×100 and 4×200 relay teams. Merryville girls basketball reached the semifinals, and many of their top players are excelling in track and field. All state hooper Maddie Mahfouz and point guard Kailee Hickman are each ranked among the area’s top hurdlers. Kaylie Lewis and Mekyah Hooper are among the leaders in the triple jump and high jump, respectively.

Competing in several sports has several advantages. It gives the athletes more exposure to college coaches and more avenues to find a path to scholarships.

Having so many of the area’s top athletes competing in track and field provides a needed boost to that sport, which has declined in popularity over the past couple of decades as many of the most talented athletes have chosen not to participate.

The decision to try multiple sports can be life-changing. One of the best athletes to come out of the area in the past three decades, Iowa’s Brian Johnson, reached the Olympics in track and field and is now making a career coaching the sport.

Basketball was his first love. He asked for help improving his vertical leap in hopes of dunking. Coach Geoff McCracken suggested joining the track team, with the condition he stick with it all through high school if he dunked. He did, starred in both sports for the Jackets and later at Southern. He reached the 2008 Olympics in the long jump and enjoyed a long professional career, which sparked his love of world travel. Trying track ended up changing the course of his life in terms of education, profession and quality of life outside of sports.


Warren Arceneaux covers prep sports. Email him at””Warren ArceneauxAmerican Press