November 23, 2012 9:09:39 AM
Adam Minichino - email@example.com
MACON -- The "A-Train" will be focused tonight on setting a final trip to Jackson.
To realize that goal, senior Antonio Ryland intends to lead another dominating defensive effort at 7 tonight when the Noxubee County High School football team plays host to Louisville in the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 4A North State title game.
The winner of tonight's game will take on the winner of tonight's Quitman-Greene County game at 3 p.m. Dec. 1 at Mississippi Memorial Stadium in Jackson.
Noxubee County (14-0) will try to get back to Jackson for the first time since 2008, when it defeated D'Iberville 12-10 to win its first state championship in football. Noxubee County lost to Laurel in the 2007 championship game.
Led by coach M.C. Miller, a longtime head football coach at Noxubee County, Louisville (10-4) will try to keep its hunt for an eighth state title alive. The Wildcats also won a state title (Class 3A) in 2008.
Ryland, a 6-foot, 240-pound linebacker/running back, entered Noxubee County's 16-3 victory against Itawamba Agricultural High as the team leader in tackles with 76. Teamed with players like Dylan Bradley, Javancy Jones, Javoris Glenn, Jeremy Hunt, and Eric Hunt, the defense has allowed only 95 points and has posted five shutouts.
One game that unit remembers is a matchup it didn't pitch a shutout. On Oct. 18, Noxubee County built a big lead in the first half only to watch as Louisville rallied in the second half before the Tigers held on for a 41-28 victory.
Noxubee County coach Tyrone Shorter said he will look to Ryland and the defense to set the tone against an opponent that likely will look to throw the ball and negate the Tigers' strength up front.
"Antonio can run and is strong as a bull," Shorter said. "He is just one of those kids that when he gets his hands on you and he gets to you, he is going to hit you. His speed is unbelievable. Sideline to side, this kid can run. He is real powerful. He is a great kid also.
"When you talk to our kids, they are a bunch of nice guys. There is something about these kids that when the lights come on they turn into different people. They just get after it."
Ryland earned his nickname in ninth grade when he was a running back who had a penchant for running over defenders. The 'A' came from the first letter of his first name, while the "Train" came from the fact he couldn't be stopped.
This season, Ryland has shown the moniker fits equally well on defense.
"Kids in school still call me 'A-Train' because that is what they know me by, but I don't hear it too much on the field anymore," Ryland said. "When I go in at fullback, I hear it from the fans. (On defense, I think it applies because) I can't be stopped."
Shorter praised his coaches for helping nurture the team chemistry. He said many of those bonds go back to pee wee football. In all, Noxubee County has 23 seniors on a squad that has stated all season its mission is to get back to Jackson and win a state title like the 2008 team. That team went 14-0.
Shorter said Ryland, who will play in the Mississippi/Alabama All-Star game next month, is like many of the players on his team, especially its defense, in that the players' heights and weight don't jump off the roster. He said many college coaches miss fail to recognize the Tigers have football players first.
"We have hard-nosed, physical football players," Shorter said. "They may not have the height and the size a lot of people look for, but they are football players. They have a lot to prove because they play kind of angry."
Shorter said that emotion stems from the fact Noxubee County didn't have any players on The Clarion-Ledger's Dandy Dozen list, which recognizes 12 of the state's top players. Shorter said many people throughout the state felt the Tigers would have had at least one or two on that list. He said seniors Dylan Bradley and Darrell Robinson have played much of the season with chips on their shoulders in an attempt to prove to people they belonged on that list.
Ryland and Javancy Jones are two other players who very easily could have been selected by The Clarion-Ledger. Still, Shorter said the Tigers haven't allowed individual accolades to take away from their focus.
Ryland feels he has improved throughout his career and has been a coachable players. He feels he has a "pretty good" season, but is eager each week to watch film to see how he can improve. After watching the film of the IAHS game, he said he still can improve on taking the best angle to make tackles.
"My defensive coach (George Richardson) told me that even though I am leading the team in tackles I could have had at least 20 more tackles," Ryland said. "I use that as motivation."
Ryland also uses his desire to play at the next level to fuel his fire. He said he looks to players like Deontae Skinner (Mississippi State University) and Corey Williams (East Mississippi Community College) as two examples of linebackers who have gone on to play football in college. He feels he has the potential to follow in their footsteps and is anxious to accomplish that goal.
First, though, the "A-Train" has to take care of business tonight in Macon so it can set a travel date for Jackson.
"The main point is to stay humble and don't look ahead to what another team in the South is doing," said Ryland, who has attracted interest from MSU, the University of Mississippi, the University of Missouri, and the University of Alabama. "This game (tonight) is the only one that matters."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.