Kaleb Blanchard is ready to run, and it shows at practice.
Denham Springs' senior tailback is completely healthy this fall after a 2011 campaign that one could only call snake bitten. Blanchard couldn't stay on the field during the Yellow Jackets' run to the Class 5A playoffs -- if it wasn't a shoulder injury suffered early on in the season, it was a hamstring injury that hobbled him upon his return.
"When you've played all the time and had success, when you get a setback you've got to learn how to handle that blow," said Denham Springs coach Dru Nettles. "It took him some time, but ... he's definitely motivated to go play football."
After an offseason of rehab, Blanchard is back once again in the Yellow Jackets' backfield and ready to go. Led by their senior, Denham Springs returns all three of its top rushers from 2011 -- an important stat for an offense that will be breaking in a new starting quarterback this fall.
"All of the motivation is there, people saying I'm not the same and having doubts. So it feels good to be back in pads," Blanchard said. "It feels great to be back out there. It's my last year playing with all of my friends, so it's time to make the best of it."
Despite his limited playing time last year, Blanchard still managed to secure several offers from SEC programs including Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Arkansas. The 6-foot, 195-pound prospect committed to the Razorbacks in April -- a decision he was happy to get out of the way.
"The recruiting process is very stressful with all these schools coming at you," Blanchard said. "I just figured if I got that out of the way and focused on my senior year, I'd have a great year."
Blanchard said he hopes to turn some heads this fall with a full-length, healthy season. But even if he draws some extra attention while he's pancaking defenders, he said he's a solid commitment to Arkansas.
"I'm going out there to prove everyone wrong, but I'm solid to Arkansas," he said.
Eye on the Tigers: One of the quietest names on LSU's commitment list this summer has been Denham Springs defensive tackle Tevin Lawson, and that's exactly the way he wanted it.
While other recruits and commits were out visiting summer camps this fall, Lawson stayed at home. In addition to taking some summer course work, the 6-foot-4, 275-pound prospect hit the weight room in preparation for his senior season.
"I didn't go to any camps, I was just working out with the team -- getting stronger and faster for this year," Lawson said.
It shows. Lawson towers over his teammates and is pretty hard to miss in the black jersey of the Yellow Jackets' starting defense.
When Lawson committed to LSU at the end of March, much was made of how the nation's No. 135 player had only played half a season at defensive tackle -- the spot where the Tigers recruited him. With a spring and summer of work to go with it, Nettles is excited about his development.
"He's going to be better as the season goes, and I believe his upside is two or three years down the road," Nettles said. "He'll be a 300-pound guy that can move and run -- he's got a great frame."
Include Nettles on that excitement. With Lawson's athleticism, it looks like the Yellow Jackets will be using the LSU commit in a variety of spots -- it's likely he'll flip between defensive tackle and defensive end, as well as playing tight end in goal line sets.
"They've got me flip-flopping out there, but it's pretty set. I know what I'm doing," Lawson said.
One to watch: With Blanchard hobbled during 2011, 2014 prospect Anthony Bracy had a chance to shine. Bracy led the Yellow Jackets in rushing as a sophomore and returns to the backfield as Blanchard's primary counterpart. At 5-foot-9, 185 pounds, Bracy offers a smaller, more elusive option to Blanchard's power-oriented style.
"He wouldn't have been known at all if Kaleb had played his junior year," Nettles said. "Anthony is a smaller back in height, but he's quick and strong, and he's going to have a bright future."
Circle the date: There's plenty to be excited about on the Jackets' schedule. Denham Springs plays a non-district game with traditional power Archbishop Rummel in September. But Blanchard and Lawson agreed, the game of games is district rival Central.
The Yellow Jackets lost, 31-28, in overtime to Central last season.
"They beat us in overtime and they shouldn't have won on our home field, so we want revenge," Blanchard said.