— Tony Tsoukalas & Sarah Moomaw / The Meridian Star
The Meridian Star
Wildcats look for quick start with new coach
Every coach seemed to complain about the short preseason in 2013, but for Kemper County's first year Chris Jones it felt even shorter.
He was hired in late June, cutting spring ball and shortening his time with the team this summer.
But after getting to know the team, scouting out athletes in school's hallways, Jones said he likes the Wildcat's chances headed into Friday nights season opener at Heidelberg, despite entering the season with a few injuries and bumps and bruises.
They are coming off a 24-12 loss to Forest Hill in last week's Jamboree, but Jones said he liked what he saw. The biggest thing they are going to need to work on is holding up through a full 48 minutes.
“The first group that was in, we kind of dominated,” he said. “First eight minutes or so, we did real well … [Overall,] I thought we did okay, gives us something to improve off of.”
This week, Jones said the difference maker is going to be in their speed and relying on a few experienced guys to lead the forces. Hopefully, the result will be an early win to match all of last year's Ws.
Kevin Bourrage is returning to the quarterback role and leading the team. Willie McCary will be another to watch, but after being banged up in the final weeks of preseason, Jones said, he will be game-day decision, but one that could make a huge difference.
“I won’t risk one game for a season, the season is pretty long,” he said.
Otis Cross is one of those Jones saw playing basketball and transplanted him on to the football field. Cross will be a key player on Friday night at receiver. Jones also likes the way the defense looks, despite a mostly new linebacker core.
But this coaching position is Jones' first head role. He spent the last three years as an assistant at Louisville and said he is just as ready as those taking the field.
“I feel really good about it, to be honest,” Jones said. “I’ve always felt that if you prepare, do the things you are suppose to do, it really should work ... It all starts with the week and preparation going into the game, and I think we’ve been getting better and better every day.”
Union hopes to get on right track to start season
Union head Coach Brad Breland hopes last week’s 21-0 loss to Newton County in their jamboree will serve as a wake up call as the YellowJackets head into their Week 1 matchup against Nanih Waiya.
Though not much went right last week, Breland said the team has been hard at work in practice trying to sure up some of their weaknesses for Friday’s game.
“We’ve got to block better play on offense and play better defense than we did Friday,” Breland said. “Hopefully we can get better from there and get things rolling by Friday.”
One of those areas will be the offensive line, as Breland said he is still searing for five dependable players to round out the unit.
Breland said he does not plan to name a set five heading into the matchup with Nanih Waiya, but instead he will rotate players in and out throughout the game. The head coach said he is optimistic the line will come together. However, he noted the YellowJackets still have a ways to go in order to be successful.
“We are clicking on a few more cylinders, just not all of them yet,” Breland said. “We are still looking to find people on the line who will play from the snap up to the whistle.”
Last year Union took down Nanih Waiya 31-12 on the road to open up the season. This year, the Warriors appear to be a more improve team than last year’s 6-6 team, as they travel to Union in hopes of revenge.
“They are a little bit bigger this year and they have more team speed than they had last season,” Breland said. “They should be a tougher team this year.”
Rams face tough challenge in Week 1
If you gave Kemper Academy head coach Pete McClesky the choice, he probably would not have scheduled 8-man favorite Sharkey-Issaquena for his first game of the season.
McClesky has yet to see the highly-touted Confederates on tape and has no idea what they will bring to the table. Still, the head coach isn’t complaining, stating instead that his young team will be ready to play as they travel to Rolling Fork Friday night.
“Hey, that’s the breaks,” McClesky said of the matchup. “They are in the same spot we are. My kids are fired up and ready to go.”
McClesky did get a chance to watch Sharkey-Issaquena as they took on Russell Christian in last year’s 8-man state playoffs, and one thing he noticed was the Confederate’s speed. Sharkey-Issaquena will try to utilize that speed by spreading the Rams out on defense in order to create open space.
“They are pretty solid,” McClesky said. “They have good numbers and good athletes. They have good speed and good skill people as well.”
One concern for the Rams heading into the game will be their youth. McClesky said his team is still working to get better on their blocking schemes and defensive assignments, but noted there has been improvement throughout practices.
“We just know we are going to make some of those young mistakes,” McClesky said. “There is nothing young can do about those but keep on playing and don’t let them hurt. “
McClesky said one of the biggest things for the his team will simply be getting some game experience. After a long summer of workouts and practice, there isn’t anything the young Rams would rather do.
“We are just looking forward to hitting somebody besides ourselves,” McClesky said. “I think it should be a good ball game.”
Tornadoes take first step towards title run
The journey towards a 3A state title begins Friday night for Philadelphia High School, as the Tornadoes travel to South Delta to take on the Bulldogs at 7 p.m.
With 15 returning starters, many are projecting Philadelphia as a favorite to represent the South in the state championship this season. Despite the early buzz though, head coach Teddy Dyess is preaching to his team to take it one game at a time ––especially against a talented Bulldog team which finished last season with a 10-2 record.
“We want to be 1-0 after Friday night, that’s our goal,” Dyess said. “We just need to take one game at a time. If you don’t take that mentality, you will not get the opportunity to compete in South State or for a state championship.”
One key to stopping the Bulldogs will be containing talented senior running back Hakeem Johnson who rushed for 1,656 yards and 21 touchdowns last season.
While Johnson could be a handful for the Tornadoes on defense, Dyess said he does not plan to scheme around stopping the talented back, opting instead to stick to the defense his team is comfortable with.
“We do what we do around here,” Dyess said. “We have a program that’s 7-12, and when you try to change things up you end up losing Friday night. We just try to get kids as many reps as we can and get them comfortable with what they do.”
After a good week in practice, Dyess said he feels like his team is continually improving heading into the season and hopes the momentum will carry into what he said will be a tough Week 1 contest.
“These games are huge,” Dyess said. “You want to be in as many close football games as possible. I think it is good for our kids, because when you get beyond the first round of the playoffs, you are going to be in those types of games.”
RCA looks to prove they belong in 11-man
All the talk, all the wondering will come to an end Friday night, as Russell Christian Academy host Patrician Academy (Ala.) in the Warriors return to 11-man football.
We just want to earn Patrician’s respect,” Ballard said. “Our goal is to go out and prove to the community that Russell Christian can play.”
Perennial Alabama-power Patrician will be no easy test for Russell in its first game, as the Saints will look to sick 6-2, 240-pound middle linebacker Parker Allen on the Warriors offense.
On offense, Patrician should be just as challenging, especially since the Saints are switching from a wing-T formation to the pistol option.
“I know what they ran last year, and they were really good,” Ballard said. “But, I have no idea what this new offense will look like. Preparing has been a headache, because we don’t really know what to prepare for.”
Headlined by senior running back Arik Washington, the Warriors will operate out of the pistol wing-T formation, Ballard said. The move allows senior quarterbcak Jacob House to have more time to throw while allowing for his running backs to hit their holes at full speed.
Friday will be the Warriors fist game on their newly renovated field, and Ballard said he urges the Warrior Nation to come out in full force to support the team in what should be a battle.
“Athletically, I think we are equal,” Ballard said of Patrician. “I just think it is going to come down to who is ready to play. They have been playing 11-man a lot longer than we have, and with a couple years in 8-man we are going to see how we handle it.
“We’ve got the pieces to be a good football team this year. We’ve just got to realize what we have to do and put those pieces together.”
Enterprise will open its 2013 season by hosting Sumrall Friday night; and come Saturday morning head coach Kelly Jimmerson want to make sure the visiting Bobcats remember who they played.
“We have to be physical,” Jimmerson said. “We are going to have to line up and be very physical with them and always keep them on their heels.”
The Bulldogs will look to use a talented offensive line to lead their rushing attack. With Sumrall expected to stack the back with seven or eight players at times, Jimmerson said execution will be key for his lineman.
“The key to Friday night is going to be how disciplined we are,” Jimmerson said. “We are going to have to know our adjustments. When they start bringing guys and stacking the box, we are going to have to get our eyes and pick those guys up. We have been working a lot in practice, because we expect them to bring a lot of pressure. Hopefully we have our guys well prepared to stop it.
Bulldogs look to get physical against Sumrall
Enterprise will need to be just as disciplined up front on defense, as Jimmerson expects Sumrall pound on the ground. While the Bobcats no longer have quarterback Will Simon, who threw for 4,422 yards and 45 touchdowns last season, Jimmerson said Sumrall still returns plenty on offense.
Before the season, Jimmerson challenged his players to get back to the old Enterprise mentality, when being a Bulldog meant something special. After a long offseason, he said the players are starting to get it.
“Today was really the first day I started seeing it,” Jimmerson said Wednesday. “They are starting to believe and they are starting to see why we do things. I’m proud of where are kids are at right now, and I’m excited about Friday night.”