Meridian Star

Sports

May 8, 2014

Wildcats eye spring game against West Point

MERIDIAN — Spring practice is under way for the Meridian High School football team, with sights set toward its May 16 spring game matchup against West Point High School at Mississippi State University's Davis-Wade Stadium.

The Wildcats are coming off a 10-4 2013 campaign, in which they advanced to the South State championship game prior to falling to Oak Grove High School, 45-14.

"If you don't win the last game, then it's not good enough," Meridian coach Larry Weems said. "This year, we need to learn how to finish."

Yet the task remains a difficult challenge for Weems and his staff as they prepare for the upcoming season.

“(Spring practice) is not ever as good as you want it to be,” Weems said. “You’re never able to get everything done that you want to get done. It’s just part of it."

The Wildcats return 13 starters off last year's squad, including seven on offense and six on the defense.

“We’re trying to identify what kids can help us be successful in the fall," Weems said. "Also, what positions we need to fill.”

Spring practice has provided an opportunity for Weems and his staff to see the potential replacements in the starting lineup that could bolster an already talented squad.

“When you’re replacing a lot of new kids, the guys coming up all think that they are ready,” Weems said. “But the game is completely different than practice.”

Defensively, the Wildcats have the daunting task of attempting to replace the loss of C.J. Hampton, an Ole Miss signee. Yet junior-to-be strong safety Zaire Jones said he believes the 'Cats can be even better defensively this season.  

"Our defense has really matured since last year," Jones said. "As far as the secondary, we were young last year. Now, everyone knows what they are doing this season. We have maturity all of the year."

Weems will again lean on senior quarterback and highly regarded recruit J'Mar Smith to provide experience and athletic prowess in an effort to lead the Wildcats in 2014.

“Anytime you’re a quarterback of a team, it starts there with offensive leadership,” Weems said. “Obviously, you have to have a person that understand what you are trying to do, what the play is designed to do, and get the ball to the right spot.

“If you have a talented player, like J’Mar is, we have to take advantage of his abilities. But we expect him to execute. I have to understand what we’re asking him to do.”

Added Smith, ""I have to make sure everyone is doing their job, and make sure I do my job as well. Also, make sure everyone is having fun."

It could be plenty of fun this year for Smith and his offense, with all three of his starting receivers from last season returning.

"It's a good thing that some of our young guys played last year," Smith said. "I have a good connection with some of them. We have to see how everything plays out."

Despite the heavy emphasis on Smith's leadership ability, Weems expects the best, not just out of Smith, but out of every player that suits up.

“Every player has a responsibility on every single play, and whatever that is, you expect those guys to do their job," Weems said.  "And if you do that, you’re team has a chance to be successful.”

Weens will get his first look at this year’s squad May 16 in the Wildcats' spring game.

“I just want to see the kids compete,” Weems said. “We get a chance to see how they are going to compete in a game situation, how they’ll react to different situations, and the only way you can get that information is to see them play in a game. Practice is practice. You’d like to have something under your belt to see how they handled those situations before you get to a real game in the fall.

“Anytime you go through the different situations, you can learn from it, whether the outcome is good or bad. Hopefully we’ll learn some things from the spring game.”

Added Jones, "We're coming back this year. We're coming hard and we're coming strong. It's been a long time since we've strapped it back up, and we're all looking forward to it."

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