Meridian Star


December 4, 2013

Stephens calls 2013 defensive line ‘by far the best’

SCOOBA — With all the talk centering around East Mississippi Community College’s prolific offense, which has averaged an eye-popping 63.2 points per game, it is easy to forget just how well its defense has played this season.

    The Lions are also holding opponents to a National Junior College Athletic Association best 7.7 points per game, compiling five shutouts on the season. No where has the dominance been more apparent than on the defensive line, where EMCC lines up three of the nations top 10 sack leaders in Jimmie Gipson III (13 sacks), D.J. Pettway (10.5 sacks) and D.J. Jones (eight sacks).

    Wednesday, head coach Buddy Stephens acknowledged his team’s depth up front, telling local media he believed this year’s line was the best he’s ever coached.

    “By far,” Stephens said. “I think by far, it’s the best total defensive line. It brings a lot of things to it. I don’t want to down any defensive line that we’ve had. We had a great one in 2011. I would say athletically, if you had to rank them, this is one of the best defensive lines I’ve been associated with.”

    Led by the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges Defensive Lineman of the Year in Gipson III, the Lions resemble what could easily be a starting Division I defensive line. Gipson III holds offers from Southern Miss. and South Alabama  among others, while defensive tackle Jarran Reed announced his commitment to the University of Alabama on Tuesday.

    Pettway also came to the Lions from Alabama and is viewed by many as EMCC’s most talented defensive line prospect. He is also expected to sign with a Division I school in February.

    “He’s fit right in,” Stephens said of Pettway. “He’s been a guy that has come in and done what we asked him to do. He has been exemplary the time he has been here. He has been a leader of some sorts.”

    Due to playing inside in EMCC’s 4-3 scheme, Reed only tallied 3.5 sacks on the season. However, at 6-5, 310-pounds he was a force, stopping the run for the Lions all season. Stephens said Reed’s contributions far exceed the playing field as he has also stepped up as one of the Lions vocal leaders this season.

     “The upside for Jarran is whatever he wants it to be,” Stephens said. “If he works hard on the football field and in the classroom, he will be a guy who will play on Sundays. He’s got to get that in his head that that’s what he wants to do. If he can do that, watch out, because he is a very powerful guy.”

    Sunday, No. 2 EMCC (11-0) will face its toughest challenge to date as the Lions take on No. 1 Georgia Military College (11-0) for the NJCAA championship in Biloxi. The matchup with the Bulldogs will also be a test for the Lions’ line as GMC boasts the nation’s top rusher in Jovon Robinson. The ex-Auburn Tiger, Robinson rushed for 2,149 yards and 31 touchdowns and is averaging nine yards a carry this season.

    “That’s a challenge, but we are looking forward to it,” Pettway said. “We have be watching film and keeping up with everything. We are ready.”

    “Most definitely,” Reed added. “We’ll see on Sunday how it turns out.”

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