August 16, 2013 11:22:22 AM
Scott Walters - [email protected]
FULTON -- Former Noxubee County High School scatback LaDarrell Hunt has tons of confidence in the quarterback position at his current school, Itawamba Community College.
Granted, Hunt admits that position may be in flux and could see a lot of participants this season.
"We are set at quarterback," Hunt said. "We are having some good competition in the fall. That will make us better as a team. I have a total confidence regardless of who is under center. This team has some high expectations."
ICC players and coaches shared their optimism Thursday at the team's Media Day activities. The season opener is Aug. 29 at East Central C.C. at Eaton Field.
"This is the season of optimism," ICC fourth-year coach Jon Williams said. "I think every coach in America starts the season with optimism. However, we think we have a chance to be special. Even though we are nationally ranked in the preseason (16th by the NJCAA), you still have to win games on the field. It is a good sign though that others are sharing the optimism for this group of kids."
Some of the optimism stems from ICC's depth at quarterback. Last season, former Mooreville High School standout Griff Loftis started the final seven games after North Carolina native Andrew Goodman suffered a season-ending injury in the second game. Loftis completed 62.4 percent of his passes for 1,716 yards and 13 touchdowns with 13 interceptions.
"Speed of the game was the biggest challenge and the biggest thing I had learned," Loftis said. "The game is so much faster on this level. It is totally different. All of sudden, two games into the season everything changed. I was making progress but suddenly it changed and the expectations for me were lifted considerably."
Goodman received a medical redshirt and has returned to the practice at full speed.
"We have a two-quarterback system going, and it has been a lot of fun," said ICC freshman wide receiver Dalon Moore, a former standout at Columbus High. "Each quarterback does something a little different and each brings a lot to the table.
"We plan to have a wide-open offensive attack, and I think that suits both players a whole lot. There will be a lot of balls to be caught. That is why it is fun playing in this offense."
The third quarterback is former Saltillo High player Chase Watson, a freshman. Also drawing a redshirt last season, Watson puts ICC in the unique position of having three quarterbacks in the second year with the program.
"It is most definitely an oddity in junior college ball to be in a position where you have three veteran quarterbacks," said Williams, who listed Loftis as the probable starter for the opener. "That is really unheard of. Not only that, we have total confidence in each of them.
"We feel like we can plug any of the three in and run our regular offense and keep moving forward."
The Indians look to move forward this season after going 6-3 last season, including 4-2 in MACJC North Division play. For a third-straight season, ICC finished tied for second in the division and failed to make the playoffs, losing out on a tiebreaker.
"The expectations are really high around here," Loftis said. "It is time for our actions to back our words, though. We need to take this to the next level. It really doesn't matter who the quarterback is because each of us can get the job done.
"The offensive line is better this year. We have some talented running backs and wide receivers. It comes down to team chemistry and making the plays on the field. The (quarterback) competition has been really good. I think it has made each of us a better player."
ICC won its first two games of the season last season with Goodman at quarterback. Williams said the highly-sought-after out-of-stater "has a cannon for an arm" and was on track "for an unbelievable season" before getting hurt.
Instead, Loftis entered and the Indians lost three of their next four games before ending the season with three-straight victories.
"It took a while for everything to fall in place," Loftis said. "I thought we were playing really well when the season ended. The challenge is to build on that."
The season ended with a 24-23 victory against archrival East Mississippi C.C., which snapped EMCC's two-season, 20-game winning streak and stuffed the Lions' hopes for repeat state and national championships. While the victory was good, it means nothing in 2013, and Williams was quick to change subjects.
"For six months, everywhere I went people asked about that one game," Williams said. "I understand that was a big win and that it did a lot for our program. It's time to move on, though, and have any bigger wins."
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter