December 7, 2013 8:29:58 PM
Scott Walters - [email protected]
SCOOBA -- "A junior college lifer."
East Mississippi Community College football coach Buddy Stephens does not know when or where the term originated. However, he does know his comfort level with the accolade.
"It is amazing that anyone would really care what I am doing now or what I would be doing next," said Stephens, who completes his sixth season at EMCC today. "I don't have a problem with being called that. I enjoy what I am doing. I enjoy being at East Mississippi Community College.
"I enjoy the community college lifestyle and I have the best boss (EMCC president Dr. Rick Young) in America. Why would anyone want to leave that?"
For EMCC, the football business has been very good this season.
No. 2 EMCC (11-0) takes on No. 1 Georgia Military College (11-0) in the sixth Mississippi Bowl for the National Junior College Athletic Association national championship.
Kickoff is set for 2 p.m. at the Biloxi High School football stadium.
"Coach Stephens has been one of the greatest influences in my life," EMCC sophomore running back Lakenderic Thomas said. "Everyone comes here because they want to play on the next level. He makes the process to get there fun.
"This two-year experience has been incredible. I feel truly humbled to have been a part of the program here and learning so much from him about every aspect of life."
When Stephens took over the EMCC program prior to the 2008 season, the Lions had one playoff appearance in the program's history - way back in 1984. Stephens has carried EMCC to six straight playoff appearances.
That is just the tip of the iceberg. Under his watch, EMCC has won the program's first-ever three state championships (2009, 2011 and 2013) and the school's first-ever national championship (2011) in any sport. EMCC has also won both bowl games under his watch (the 2009 Mississippi Bowl and the 2011 El Toro Bowl).
The overall record stands at 55-10.
"At East Mississippi, there was winning but it had been a while since they had been winning consistently," Stephens said. "When I came here, I got to see Rick Young's long-term vision of bringing championships to Scooba. After you see that, how could you really want to be any place else?"
Robyn Stephens, a registered nurse, knew what she was getting when she married Buddy Stephens. The two met during his playing days at Pearl River Community College.
"Football has always been Buddy's life," Robyn Stephens said. "But that does not take away from his ability to be a father and to be a husband. He has always been able to place football in the proper prospective. I know how lucky we are because not a lot of coaches have that ability."
A native of Huntsville, Ala., Stephens playing career later finished at Delta State University. A graduate assistant stint at his alma mater was followed by more degree work at Louisiana-Monroe. From there, the 23-year coaching career began in earnest with numerous high school stops in both Alabama and Louisiana.
His Mississippi community college coaching career began in 2001 with a seven-year stop as an assistant coach at Peal River. In 2008, Young handed the keys to Stephens and the EMCC program quickly became one of the nation's best.
"Buddy has been an incredible asset to our college," Young said. "He is a leader in so many aspects of what we are trying to accomplish. He is a teacher and mentor first and a coach second. You see so many wonderful attributes and the program's success speaks for itself."
Not only has EMCC just completed its second undefeated regular season in program history, the team has gotten national headlines for its fast-paced offense, which leads the nation with averages of 611.1 yards and 63.2 points per game.
While Marcus Wood is the offensive coordinator and play-caller, the basic offensive system which has produced Ole Miss starter Bo Wallace and Florida Atlantic starter Quez Johnson in each of the past two seasons was created by Stephens during the infancy of his coaching career.
It is only natural when another program falls on hard offensive times, Stephens name becomes plastered all over the message boards.
"The chat lines have connected me to jobs at Mississippi College, West Alabama and even Louisiana-Lafayette," Stephens said. "I enjoy where I am at. I enjoy working with the coaches I am working with. EMCC took a chance on me being a head coach. I want to make sure I live up to that and repay them for that commitment to me and my family. The only way I know how to do that is through loyalty.
"Family will always come first for me. I got into coaching years ago because I love football and I also thought this was a way I could take care of my family."
Football and family has become the perfect match for Buddy Stephens. Buddy and Robyn have three daughters -- Lauren Elizabeth, 18, Julianna Hope, 14, and Rebekah Leanne, 11. Lauren Stephens is a freshman at EMCC and part of the band.
"I (coach) because I am not a smart guy, not really good in math, wasn't going to be an engineer," Stephens said. "I saw this as the perfect way to provide for my family. They make it so easy. My wife is raising three kids without me during the football season. The season is now longer. With the elimination of the (in-state) recruiting districts, it feels like this thing goes on year-round now.
"My wife is the pillar for me. She is the pillar of my family. I have been blessed with three wonderful daughters. They have committed their lives to Christ. I feel fortunate. I have the best support system a man I could ask for. Every home game my daughters will be here on the field. They love being a part of it. They love it because I love it. That is special."
For EMCC, so much of the Stephens' era has been special. After all, he is a "junior college lifer."
No one in Scooba has any problems with that.
Follow Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott
How to go
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter