Meridian Star


July 1, 2014

Quitman looking to make it past South State this season

QUITMAN — Anytime KJ Thornton doesn’t feel like doing summer workouts, all he has to do is remember last year’s MHSAA Class 4A South State title game.

Quitman High School fell to Forrest County Agricultural High School, 25-14, marking the third season in a row the Panthers have fallen short at South State. Now, the senior Panthers defensive back said it’s time to make it to Jackson.

“I’m just out here working hard and trying to get better — bigger, faster, stronger, better than the rest,” Thornton said.

Panthers players are required to attend at least 25 summer workouts or they won’t make the team. Workouts go from 7 to 9 a.m. Mondays through Thursdays, and though early mornings might be a drag every now and then, Thornton said he realizes what’s at stake if the players don’t give 100 percent.

“I just think about South State — it’s all the motivation I need,” he said.

The Panthers split time between the weight room for building strength and the football field for building endurance with exercises like sled pulling. Head coach Steven Bynum said a tough summer makes for an easier transition to the fall, especially against better teams.

“You don’t want to get out there on the first day of practice and not be in shape,” Bynum said. “We also want them to be acclimated to the summer heat.”

In addition to not making the team if you show up for less than 25 workouts, there are incentives for showing up for more than the minimum. Game cleats are provided by the school for 32 attendances, pre-game gear is provided for 35 attendances and game gloves are provided for 40 attendances. In addition, players get presented the Weight Room Warrior award at the football banquet if they attend 40 workouts.

“It’s sort of second nature for these kids now (to show up),” Bynum said. “They just come.”

For Thornton, one of eight seniors, the chance of playing for a state title is also an extra incentive.

“It’s my senior year, so I just want to give it my all,” he said. “It makes me want to work harder. If we work hard and put ourselves to it, we can get back (to South State) and probably go past it.”

Bynum is entering his fourth year as head coach, and even he admitted he was ready to do more than just make the state semifinal round.

“The first time, it’s a great achievement,” he said. “Then the next year the goal is to always get better. It’s gotten to where we expect to be in that game. We felt like at the end of both games (the past two years), we were the better team but just came up short, so it gets frustrating. We’re ready to win this thing and see what it’s like to go to Jackson.”

In order to do that, Bynum said the team would have to start buying in now, when it’s building strength and stamina for the fall. So far, he’s been pleased with the amount of work put in.

“We began the week after we finished school,” he said. “There’s no time off. We even worked out on Memorial Day. They’ll have the Fourth (of July) off, and then the mandatory dead week, and the rest of the time, we’re out here working.”

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