November 9, 2012 9:18:11 AM
ABERDEEN -- Eight weeks and counting.
That's how long it has been since the Aberdeen High School football team came up on the short end of the score. The Bulldogs will look to make it nine at 7 tonight when it plays host to J.J. McClain in the second round of the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 3A North State playoffs.
McClain (9-3) whipped Belmont 34-6 last week, while Aberdeen built a 47-14 lead against Winona before finally settling for a 54-42 victory.
Aberdeen has the more explosive offense with 399 points (33.3 per game), but McClain owns the better defensive numbers with 205 points allowed (17.1).
McClain has scored 354 points in 12 games for a 29.5 average. The key to beating the Mustangs is to put pressure on senior quarterback Rotavious Thurmond and to cover tight end Robert Jordan.
"We have to shut down their quarterback," Aberdeen coach Mark Bray said. "He's the key to their whole team, and if we stop him we win the game.
"He's big and tall and throws and runs the ball well. He has the ability to scramble, and that makes them click when he is able to scramble."
The Mustangs run out of a variety of formations, which concerns Bray.
"One time they'll be in the Wishbone and then they'll line up in an empty set with no backs," Bray said.
Defensively, Aberdeen will have to handle inside linebacker/defensive lineman Timothy Stewart, McClain's best defensive player.
"They gamble a lot defensively and they're real unpredictable," Bray said. "They base out of the 4-3, but playing them, you don't know what to expect and there's no telling what we'll see."
Despite friendship, Aberdeen native pulls for alma mater
When the Mississippi State University football team plays LSU on Saturday in Tiger Stadium, MSU's offensive brain trust will have to figure out how to run against the Tigers' formidable defensive line coached by Brick Haley.
Haley, a former defensive line coach at MSU from 2004-06, has played a major role in making LSU's defensive front one of the best in the nation the past three years. He can thank a former Aberdeen standout for giving him his first coaching job back in 1989.
Following an exceptional playing career at Alabama A&M from 1984-88, where he was a two-time Division II All-America linebacker and was selected the team's Most Valuable Player his senior year, Haley couldn't decide whether to pursue a career in broadcast journalism or to try his hand at coaching.
At the same time, Bill Bacon, an Alabama coaching legend who was in his 16th year at Enterprise (Ala.) High School, was looking for a bright, energetic young coach and agreed to give Haley an interview.
The rest, as they say, is history.
After a year on Bacon's staff, Haley became a graduate assistant at the University of Arkansas for one season. He then has served as a defensive line coach or a linebacker coach at Austin Peay University, Troy State University, the University of Houston, Clemson University, Baylor University, Georgia Tech University, Mississippi State University, and the NFL's Chicago Bears before taking his present position with the Tigers in 2009.
Last season, LSU was ranked as one of the nation's top defensive units in numerous categories thanks in no small part to Haley's defensive front. This year, the Tigers' defense ranks second in passing defense, third in total defense, 10th in scoring defense, and 12th in rushing defense.
Haley was unavailable for comment, but in a story by Larry Mayer, senior writer for the official website of the Chicago Bears written in 2007, Haley said this about working for Bacon:
"He kind of ruled with an iron fist. He did a great job. He was a great person. But you knew when you came to play football at Enterprise High School it was going to be done one way, and everybody respected that. He was there for a long time and had great success. I remember the success they had and the tradition."
Haley said he enjoyed his short stay in Enterprise working for the "no-nonsense" Bacon and just wanted to contribute as much as he could to maintain Enterprise's winning tradition.
"I was a young coach just getting in," he told Mayer. "The thing I was trying to do then was learn as much as I could and be as good a football coach as I could and do the things the way they wanted them done and hopefully have some success and maybe move on."
As noted, Haley did move on and reportedly is currently the highest paid defensive line coach without any other titles in the NCAA.
Bacon stayed put and, although he wasn't the highest paid high school coach in Alabama, he finished his career recognized as one of the state's best prep coaches.
"At the time, we were looking for a defensive line/linebacker coach," Bacon said. "We always went to the colleges looking for young talent because we liked taking young guys and teaching them the game."
Bacon said it was apparent from their first meeting that Haley had a bright future ahead of him.
"He was a hard worker and he just had a knack for the game," Bacon said. "You could tell right away that he was going to be an outstanding coach."
Bacon moved to Aberdeen from Miami, Fla., as a youngster and went on to become a standout in football, basketball, and baseball. After graduating from Aberdeen High in 1961, he signed a baseball scholarship with MSU and helped lead it to two Southeastern Conference baseball titles as a second baseman.
Bacon's first job after graduating from MSU took him to Mobile, Ala., where he hired on as an assistant football coach and head baseball coach at B.C. Rain High. Four years later, he gave up the baseball job but took over the football program and led the Red Raiders to a five-year record of 30-13-4.
He was then hired at Enterprise in 1974 and spent the next 27 years leading the Wildcats to a 211-85-1 mark, which included state football titles in 1979 and 1982. In his 27-year tenure as head coach, Bacon finished with more wins than any previous Enterprise coach and guided his Wildcat teams to 16 playoff appearances, including nine straight starting in 1990.
Along the way, Bacon suffered only two losing seasons and turned out more than 100 college football players. He was named Alabama's Coach of the Year twice, and in 1999 was inducted into the Alabama High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame and into the Wiregrass Sports Hall of Fame in 2002. He also served as president of the Alabama Coaches Association, and coached in the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star game twice and in the Alabama North-South All-Star game twice.
Following his retirement in June of 2001, Bacon's high school record stood at 241-98-5. A2001 Congratulatory Resolution passed by the Alabama Legislature, both Houses concurring, commended Bacon for his stellar career:
Monroe County flavor in West-Alabama-North Alabama rivalry game
Another offense vs. defense battle with strong ties to Monroe County took place Thursday when University of West Alabama coach Will Hall and offensive coordinator Sam Gregg matched wits with University of North Alabama defensive coordinator Chris Willis.
Hall and Gregg, who have coached together the past seven years, played on the same team at Amory, while Willis played less than 20 miles away in Aberdeen.
West Alabama is 7-3 and looking for a Division II playoff berth after a loss to Abilene Christian last week, while North Alabama started the season 5-1 but has lost its last three games to end its streak of seven consecutive playoff appearances.
Hall served as West Alabama's offensive coordinator for three years before taking over the program in 2011 when he was 30 years old following the retirement of Division II coaching legend Bobby Wallace.
Following a stellar AHS career in which he started for his father, Bobby Hall, at quarterback his junior and senior years and at wide receiver as a sophomore, the younger Hall caught the eye of Northwest Mississippi Community College coach Bobby Franklin.
Franklin's faith in Hall paid off in spades, as Hall started both years for the Rangers and set single-season records (3,982 passing and 48 touchdown passes). He also holds the two-year record for passing touchdowns with 57, has the second-highest passing yards total with 5,045 and also set a JUCO record by throwing nine TD passes in a 69-37 win over East Mississippi C.C.
His stellar offensive performance earned him a spot on the J.C. Gridiron All-America second team and a NJCAA honorable mention selection and he was inducted into the NMCC Hall of Fame earlier this year.
Recruited by UNA, Hall's junior and senior seasons at North Alabama were just as productive as he set 16 school offensive records and still holds the marks for completion percentage in a career (68%) and a season (71.8%).
In 2003 he led the Lions to a 13-1 record and to the NCAA quarterfinals and his efforts were rewarded by being named the Harlon Hill Trophy winner -- the NCAA's Division II college football player of the year award, along with numerous All-American accolades.
After graduating from North Alabama, Hall served as an assistant coach at Presbyterian College (S.C.) and Henderson State before taking over as offensive coordinator at Southwest Baptist in 2006 and the University of Arkansas at Monticello in 2007. In 2008, he was hired as the offensive coordinator by Wallace at West Alabama.
Gregg, whose father, Leroy Gregg, has been a football and basketball coaching fixture throughout Northeast Mississippi since 1977, was a senior offensive lineman when Hall started at wide receiver at Amory. He went on to play collegiately at Itawamba C.C. and at Murray State University
In 2003, he was an assistant coach at ICC before coaching the offensive line at the University of Memphis in 2004 where his offensive front gave up only five sacks all season and earned a bid to play in the Motor City Bowl in Detroit, Mich.
From Memphis, Gregg joined Hall at Southwest Baptist, at Arkansas-Monticello and finally at West Alabama where he has helped lead the Tigers to a pair of NCAA playoff appearances in 2009 and 2011. The 2009 UWA offensive unit was ranked in the Top 25 in Division II and third in the Gulf South Conference.
Gregg is in his second year as the offensive coordinator.
Willis, in his 11th season on the Lions' staff and first as defensive coordinator and linebackers coach, has filled a variety of assignments at UNA, including serving as assistant head coach last year. Along the way, he has also coached the defensive backs, tight ends and running backs, as well as serving as the Lions' recruiting coordinator from 2002-05.
While on staff the previous 10 years, Willis helped lead UNA to three conference championships and eight NCAA Division II playoff berths en route to a 95-30 overall record, including the record-setting 13-1 2003 quarterfinal season.
Prior to coming to North Alabama, Willis spent three years on the Delta State staff where he served as recruiting coordinator. In 2000, the Statesmen finished 14-1 and captured the Division II national championship with a 63-34 win over Bloomsburg.
As a quarterback at Aberdeen High School, he helped lead the Bulldogs to the third round of the playoffs in 1990 and a two-year record of 20-2 and was also a standout pitcher on the baseball team.
Following graduation in 1992, Willis attended Itawamba Community College on a football/baseball scholarship and helped the Indians win the school's first baseball state championship in 1993.
Small world phenomenon
Leroy Gregg was an assistant coach under Bobby Hall for a number of years at Amory and his son, Sam, is an assistant coach for Will Hall -- Bobby's son -- at West Alabama.
Bobby Wallace, who hired Will Hall and Sam Gregg and whose retirement at West Alabama opened the door for Hall to succeed him, is in his second stint as head coach at North Alabama.
In his second year at UNA in 2003, Chris Willis coached the team's running backs and Will Hall quarterbacked the Lions.
Leroy Gregg and Bobby Wallace played football together at MSU.
Before moving to Amory in 1988, Sam Gregg spent his formative years in Aberdeen, where his father coached football and basketball for nine years and his mother was an Aberdeen graduate.
Wallace was 10-0 as coach versus UWA from 1988-97, but last night's game was his first to coach against Will Hall.
Ryne Smith, West Alabama's kicker and a 2011 All-GSC first team selection, played for Bobby Hall at Madison Central High School.
Rico Jernighan, a senior defensive back at UWA, played his high school football at Amory, his coach's alma mater.