October 10, 2012 9:44:28 AM
Scott Walters - [email protected]
SCOOBA -- When the East Mississippi Community College football team won its first national championship last season, linebacker D.J. Jordan knew he would play a critical role in the title defense.
Jordan has emerged as a leader on defense to help push EMCC on its way to another postseason berth.
At 7 p.m. Thursday, Jordan and No. 4 EMCC could clinch their fifth straight playoff berth when they travel to Booneville to take on Northeast Mississippi C.C. in a North Division at Tiger Stadium.
"I was really excited about this season because I knew I would be counted on as one of the leaders," said the 6-foot-1, 225-pound sophomore. "We wanted to bring the new guys in here and teach them the way champions play ball. I think they have caught on very well. Hopefully, we can leave this program in great shape and the winning will continue."
EMCC fifth-year coach Buddy Stephens has made the Lions a force at the state and the national levels. The Lions have won all 13 division road games in the Stephens era. Despite the success, which also includes two state championships, this season's EMCC defense is going where no other unit has gone before.
"We have a totally different mind-set on defense," said Jordan, who has 21 tackles and two pass breakups. "On every possession, we want a three-and-out. If the other team gets first down, we don't want to allow another. Last season, the offense was so good and we were not as dominate. This year is totally different. During the offseason, we really grew up as a defense and challenged ourselves even more."
The results are in the statistics. EMCC (6-0, 3-0 MACJC North) has two shutouts for the first time in the past five seasons. The Lions have allowed 17 or fewer points in all six games. EMCC has allowed one touchdown or less four times. It reached milestone five times in the previous four seasons.
"The linebackers have taken their play to another level this year," said EMCC associate head coach William Jones, who coaches that position. "After last season's championship, that group dedicated itself to being even better. D.J. was part of that group. The leadership you see on the field started in January as soon as last season finished."
While going through spring drills, Jordan thought the defense had a chance to be special. He then saw that belief re-affirmed when a top-notch recruiting class rolled onto campus.
"The main thing with this year's defense is that it is a lot faster," said Jordan, who will graduate in December and plans to be part of a senior college football program in the spring. "Last year, we had a really good defense. This year is different. We have a chance to get more players to the quarterback. We have more players going for the ball. We have gotten more turnovers. We have made more game-changing plays."
Game-changing players had a key role Saturday in a 35-0 victory against Holmes C.C. on Homecoming. The teams were deadlocked in a scoreless tie midway through the third quarter before the Lions forced three turnovers in the final 16 minutes and scored four touchdowns in the final nine-plus minutes.
"Every time we play, we want to show people we have a good defense," Jordan said. "Our goal is to shut people out. Our mind-set is to help make the offense better. We feel like we are one of the nation's best defenses, so our offense can only get better by going against us every day in practice.
"It's a team thing, and we all take pride in picking each other up."
While last season's 12-0 run proved to be one long offensive highlight film, Stephens really likes this team because of the balance. The longtime junior college coach likes the offensive balance (run vs. pass) and the team balance (not reliant on offense or defense).
"This is the best defense I have ever been around," said Stephens, who played in the Mississippi junior college system and has coached it in for 12 seasons. "It's all about speed. You can't have enough of it. We have it at every position. With linebackers Corey (Williams), D.J. (Jordan) and Christian (Russell), we have a blue-chip defense. They look to make plays on every snap."
Playing hard on every snap was something Jordan learned at Starkville High School as a standout defensive player for Jamie Mitchell.
"I learned so much at Starkville High," Jordan said. "I learned how to be a smart player. I learned how to be a leader. The main thing I learned is how to handle adversity. We lost some games and I never wanted to have that feeling again.
"That has been the motivational factor for me from the beginning. I hate to lose and I plan to do everything in my power to make sure that never happens around here."
The mind-set to go hard on every snap has allowed EMCC to take the word loss out of its vocabulary. The Lions have won 18 straight games and 11 in a row in the North Division.
While the Lions aim for a repeat national championship, be careful when calling it a title defense.
"We feel like we aren't defending anything," Jordan said. "That was last year's team and last year's championship. We already have that championship and nobody can take it for us. If you are defending it, you could lose it, so from the first practice, we started over. It was a new year, and we are motivated to bring another championship back to Scooba."
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter