Thursday, May 9, 2013
Enrollment, talent booming in Dutchtown
By Gary Laney
GEISMAR, La. -- Behind the football offices and locker rooms at Dutchtown High School in Baton Rouge's southeast suburbs sits a series of trailers, temporary classrooms that prove the barely 11-year-old school already is overcrowded.
"We'll probably build a freshman campus next," said football coach Benny Saia, who already is lamenting a land-locked campus where the band soon might have to share practice space with the football team if additional buildings spring up. "What will probably happen is they'll build a new school out in (nearby) Galvez."
Eric Reid, a first-round pick by the 49ers, was one of three Dutchtown alumni to reach the NFL this spring.
Dutchtown High is indeed the classic example of American suburban growth. Just one freeway exit on Interstate 10 from Baton Rouge, it sits in a hot growth area of unincorporated bedroom towns filled with new neighborhood developments mixed with homesteads that maintain their rural feel from before the western part of Ascension Parish blew up in the 1990s. A campus built to accommodate 1,500 students is bordering on 2,000 and growing.
"Everybody wants their kids in Dutchtown now," said Saia, a long-time Baton Rouge-area coach.
Including, it would appear, football players.
Dutchtown became the first high school to have two players off one team invited to New York for the NFL draft when LSU safety Eric Reid (eventually a first-round draft pick of the San Francisco 49ers) and Alabama running back Eddie Lacy (second round to the Packers) both made the trip to Radio City Music Hall last month.
To add to the haul, Saia's son, Louisiana Tech offensive guard Kevin Saia, signed as a free agent with the St. Louis Rams the day after the draft, giving Dutchtown three players in one year who will sign NFL contracts.
"It was an amazing thing to see happen," Saia said.
But it wasn't just the result of a growing school organically attracting football players.
When Dutchtown opened in 2002, Saia said, it was a hard sell to football players against the parish's older large schools. Gonzales East Ascension (a consolidated school that absorbed a previous version of Dutchtown High in 1966) and St. Amant both had long and storied history in football and athletics in general.
That started to change in 2005, when Hurricane Katrina scattered Crescent City residents around the country. Many opted for Ascension Parish, which sits less than an hour from New Orleans, just outside the area heavily damaged by the storm.
"After Katrina, we picked up 22 players from New Orleans," Saia recalled. "A lot of them ended up going back, but one that stayed was Eddie Lacy."
Landon Collins came to Dutchtown because of Eddie Lacy, then followed him to Alabama.
With Lacy's arrival, the perception of Dutchtown's football program and the school began to shift.
The Griffons became better on the field, so good that a good young, local running back prospect named Eric Reid had to switch from running back to safety.
"They already had Eddie Lacy," said Reid, a 2010 Dutchtown graduate (a year behind Lacy).
The Griffons became a fixture in the playoffs, and with the school's strong academic reputation and its location near the affluent south Baton Rouge area -- closer to the city's amenities than either East Ascension or St. Amant -- enrollment continued to skyrocket and the team became a perennial power.
The Reid-Lacy teams were followed by rosters led by Landon Collins, another New Orleans native who Saia said wound up at Dutchtown in no small part because of Lacy's success. Collins later followed Lacy to Alabama.
Saia said the New Orleans influence is only part of the reason Dutchtown took its next step.
"We were moved into a district with the (suburban New Orleans) River Parish schools," Saia said. "That made us have to step up our game to compete."
The 5A powers in New Orleans' Western Mississippi River industrial suburbs -- Destrehan, Hahnville and East St. John -- have long been prolific producers of pro players (such as LaRon Landry of Hahnville and Ed Reed of Destrehan) and state title contenders. When the Ascension schools were shifted there in the mid-2000s, Saia said they knew the competition was going to be difficult.