December 26, 2013 10:16:56 AM
Matthew Stevens - [email protected]
MACON -- Tyrone Shorter knew from the opening play of the 2013 season he couldn't panic.
The Noxubee County High School football team fumbled a pitch on its first play in a 17-0 loss to Starkville in its home opener. Two plays later, Starkville threw a touchdown for the first score. Coming off an undefeated run to the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 4A state championship in 2012, everybody around the program wanted to panic.
Shorter knew better.
"I wasn't worried about losing games or even losing games in a row to start the season because I needed to make sure they still had confidence," Shorter said. "My job as a coach is to make sure my players get everything they need, and sometimes that is making them feel good when everybody else is mad or worried."
Shorter continued to be positive after his team went 2-3 in non-region play. The end result for the 40-year-old Shorter was watching his team advance to the Class 4A North Half semifinals and another selection as The Dispatch's Large Schools Coach of the Year.
"I didn't want my team to have thoughts of trying to be the next great team or the next great players at Noxubee, but they just weren't ready for that yet," Shorter said.
Shorter's background made it easier for him not to worry or to second-guess the youth on his team that was trying to live up to the legacy 23 seniors on the 2012 title team helped build on.
In 2010, Shorter was the likely choice to replace M.C. Miller, who eventually became the new coach at Louisville High. In four seasons as leader of the program, Shorter has won at least one playoff game in each year and is 11-3 in the postseason. Shorter also draws inspiration from Lum Wright, his high school coach, who is a Warren County native and former football coach at Warren Central, Port Gibson, and Chamberlain-Hunt Academy. Wright was inducted into the National High School Hall of Fame in 2004.
"I have philosophies I take with all the people I've been around, but the basis is I want our kids to feel loved and that we can put them in a situation to win, and I think here at Noxubee we do that," Shorter said. "We eat together once a week as a team, we go to church as a team, and there's a bond that grows here being a part of this program. I'm proud to have that be something I'm in charge of."
With underclassmen and inexperienced players leading the offense, Shorter's patience with his new group paid off as it won seven games in a row, including two wins in the playoffs.
At Port Gibson High, Shorter was a player who was overlooked because of his lack of size, but he signed to play at Alcorn State and then spent two seasons at Hinds Community College before transferring to Austin Peay. He then earned a professional roster spot with the Canadian Football League's Edmonton Eskimos and earned a training camp invitation from the NFL's San Diego Chargers.
Shorter has helped cement Noxubee County as one of the state's premier programs, but he continues to be frustrated by colleges that see his kids the same way college coaches saw him two decades ago.
"I hope there's a time one day where schools will look to recruits as what kind of football player he is inside and not just harp on the time in the 40-yard dash and the height or weight," Shorter said. "The kids like a (Southern Mississippi late signee) Dylan Bradley that gets missed by big schools always prove people wrong."
This season, Noxubee County relied on its defense, which allowed Shorter to get back to his coaching roots, which included time as a defensive guru under Miller, to help the team win games. Noxubee County was 7-1 in games it surrendered 10 points or less.
"Folks didn't recognize last year that when we won the state championship that it was about our defense," Shorter said. "They saw all this experience and flashy offensive talent, but they didn't realize we could've averaged 14 points a game and still won every game. That's how dominant our defense has been in the past few seasons."
On offense, Noxubee County did it by committee, which is how Shorter and his staff would prefer it. The Tigers (9-4) had no rusher with more than 400 yards, no receiver with more than 15 catches, and only seven touchdown passes.
"We didn't have our quarterback (DeAngelo Ballard), our running back (Darrell Robinson), or a lot of receivers coming back after that title season," Shorter said. "We just had to focus on doing the fundamentals correctly and not making critical mistakes. In the middle of the year we did that."
After a run to the North Half semifinals this season, where they lost to state runner-up Lafayette County 9-0, Shorter plans to face the same non-region schedule in 2014. His plan won't be any different than his previous seasons on the Tigers sideline: wait for something special to develop and just trust me. That approach has produced results each of the past two seasons, so Shorter doesn't want to mess with success.
"I want to win every game, and I still think about that loss to Lafayette, but I think more folks around the state are starting to notice what kind of job we do here at Noxubee," Shorter said.
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.