November 6, 2012 10:38:13 PM
Scott Walters - firstname.lastname@example.org
DeVonta Koger still considers himself a basketball player.
Now, though, football is back in the picture, and the West Lowndes High School football team is reaping the rewards.
The decision of Koger to return to the football field after not playing the sport since middle school and the willingness of senior Ronnie Porter to move to the offensive line are two reasons the Panthers were in position to take advantage of a second chance Friday. West Lowndes made the most of that opportunity by beating Sebastopol 36-22 to earn the fourth and final playoff spot from Class 1A, Region 3. West Lowndes' reward will be a game at 7 p.m. Friday against Bogue Chitto, the state's top-ranked team in Class 1A.
West Lowndes coach Anthony King likes his team's chance in part because of seniors like Koger and Porter. Koger, a 6-foot-1, 191-pound transfer from Noxubee County High, played football in middle school but didn't play the sport in high school until this season. He played on the boys basketball team in his first three years at Noxubee County before moving to Lowndes County.
"He is a real good athlete," Koger said. "He is raw, but he has a good motor and keeps going. That should help him get to the next level. He plays with a lot of passion. He could develop into a real good player once he gets more polish."
Koger had seven solo and 13 total tackles last week against Sebastopol. That performance pushed his team-leading count to 96 solo and 157 total tackles. He also had eight sacks, two blocked punts, and two fumble recoveries.
"I just felt like I needed to get back to the old me," Koger said when asked why he opted to play football again. "I guess I needed a backup plan with two sports."
King said Koger's size and speed allows him to play multiple positions. He said he was surprised Koger hadn't played football in that long.
"He has been a blessing for us," King said. "He understands the game even though he hasn't played too much. It has surprised me for him to come out for one year and to have the year he is having."
Koger said he still plans to play basketball at West Lowndes. He didn't know which sport he was better at, even though he is having such a successful season.
"I didn't really forget anything," said Koger, who played linebacker in seventh and eighth grade. "I just brought back what I knew from football. I have enjoyed it a lot. Being my first year back playing football, it has surprised me a lot."
Porter, a 5-8, 170-pounder, also has played linebacker and defensive end. But he said he volunteered to move to the offensive line -- a position he had never played -- to help the team's offense. Although Porter isn't the biggest lineman, King said his speed and athleticism allows the Panthers to trap and to do other things to utilize a stable of running backs that includes Eric Harris, Jevontrae Williams and Dearius Douglas.
"Ronnie is the heart and soul of the team," King said. "He can do a lot of dirty work. He can play on the nose and is real quick, so he can move the center. He also has done a real good job blocking (on the offensive line) against the big boys. It wears on him, but he has hung in there and worked hard in the weight room. He is a real smart kid and a good kid."
Porter is third on the team with 112 total tackles (54 solo). He also has three sacks and three fumble recoveries. He had 12 tackles last week against Sebastopol.
"It was very scary (moving to the offensive line)," said Porter, a left guard, who has played on the football team at West Lowndes all four seasons. "I had to learn quick to help my team."
Junior Phytrel Williams is second on the team with 132 tackles (82 solo). Williams also had 13 tackles last week against Sebastopol.
Ronnie's brother, Lavonte, is a freshman offensive lineman on the team. King said the emergence of the offensive line has helped the offense gain confidence down the stretch of the season. He said the development of that unit has taken some of the pressure off the defense, which he said has been a strength of the team all season.
King said Ronnie Porter's decision to sacrifice for the team was crucial because the Panthers had only two returning offensive lineman from last season and needed some stability He said Porter has provided that and more.
"Ronnie is really strong, and he spent a lot of time in the weight room," King said. "It all about getting the technique down and learning the plays. He started off real good, and he has become one of the leaders on the offensive line. He does a good job."
Ronnie Porter admits going up against opponents with bigger bellies than his has been an adjustment. He said he tries to use his speed and his footwork to hold his own and prevent them from getting to the quarterback.
King also praised the play of Breshon Brooks and Levonte Campbell, senior linemen who play on both sides of the ball. Contributions from upperclassmen like those have put West Lowndes in a no-lose situation. King acknowledges not many people believe his team can beat Bogue Chitto, but he likes his squad's chances because individuals have sacrificed to make the whole team better.
"There is no pressure on us," King said of the playoffs. "We really weren't supposed to be in the playoffs, but now that we're in let's make the most of it. We played some tough teams. We played with the defending state champions Noxapater (the top seed in the region) for a half, and that's when our offensive was struggling at the beginning of the season. We are starting to come around now and are doing better. I definitely think we can keep it going, and I think we are getting hot at the right time."
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter