INDEPENDENCE, LA (WAFB) - Independence is coming off a winning season where the Tigers rebounded from a 2-8 mark to finish 6-4, but still got bounced in the first round of the playoffs by three touchdowns.
Head coach Keith Carona has 15 years as the Tigers head coach plus another dozen as an assistant, so he is starting year 28 this fall, hoping to be more competitive than his team was in losses to St. Helena, Belaire and Amite where the margin averaged four touchdowns.
"Last year we got back in the playoffs and the kids are really buying in and working hard," Carona said. "We're kind of turning the curve to get that tradition back that Independence High is noted for."
Carona said he will probably be without junior quarterback Marquel Jackson to start the season, coming off a knee injury in the playoffs after leading the Tigers to their first postseason play in three years, after 34 straight playoff appearances, rebounding from 2-8 to finish 6-4.
His cousin, Stephan Jackson, will play there some until he gets back and will certainly benefit from an experience line led by All-State center Paul Rogers, but No. 1 is better known as district MVP safety, leading what has become a physical, fast and aggressive defense that we saw in this spring game against Varnado.
"My freshman year I think we won one game and then last year we ended up winning six and in the playoffs, so big difference," Rodgers said.
"Working hard, conditioning and working out, getting stronger, faster makes a better all-around team," said senior guard/defensive end Rodney Taylor.
Carona pointed out the Tigers were just one Hail Mary play against Bogalusa from being district champs and young talent like Delo Gaines and Malik Merrill are more reasons for purple and gold optimism heading into the 2016 season even through they only have about 40 guys on the team.
"These guys work hard and do whatever we ask them to do. People want to know do you have 80 guys playing football, well we probably could have 80 guys playing football, but we can't have 80 guys that's gonna put in the work that it takes to play football," Carona said. "Everybody wants to play. Everybody wants to play on Friday night, but they don't want to work in January, February, March, April, May and then work all summer."
VIDEO: Watch part 1 on the Independence Tigers from Sportsline Summer Camp.