November 6, 2009 9:23:00 AM
Adam Minichino - email@example.com
Anthony Hines can''t wait to play in his first championship game.
The former Starkville High School product is thankful he will have full use of both of his hands to make the most of the opportunity.
The sophomore defensive back will lead the No. 7 East Mississippi Community College football team against two-time defending state champion and No. 3 Mississippi Gulf Coast (9-1) in the Mississippi Association of Community & Junior Colleges (MACJC) state championship at 2 p.m. Saturday at EMCC''s Sullivan-Windham Field.
Hines, who is third on the team in tackles, has two interceptions in the past two games to lead the Lions (9-1), who went 6-0 to win the MACJC North Division title.
"I made plays during the season, but I felt I could have done better," Hines said. "The coaches were always telling me to make sure I play back and to stay deep. I like to read the run. At the end of the season, they were constantly preaching to me about staying deep. Once I stayed deep I started to make better plays than I was at the beginning of the season."
Hines, a 5-foot-11, 180-pounder, leads the team with 56 solo tackles and is third overall with 71 stops. He has three tackles for loss, two sacks, seven pass breakups, and a team-high six interceptions.
Hines'' interceptions have increased as he has returned to 100 percent health. He broke a bone in his hand in the first game of the season and was forced to wear a cast. He had surgery and was ready for the next game, but the different size casts he had to wear sapped the strength in his hand and made it difficult for him to catch the balls he felt he should have.
Hines has played the past four games without the cast, and he feels he is rounding back into form.
"Once I got the cast off I had strength in my hand and I got my confidence back and started making plays," Hines said. "As I made plays I started to get more confidence. This week, I will have to step it up a little bit more."
EMCC will need Hines and his teammates in the secondary to play well to help slow down wide receiver Kevin Bolden, quarterback Greg Franklin, and sophomore running back Vick Ballard.
Bolden, a sophomore, caught three touchdown passes last week in a 58-21 victory against Coahoma to push his totals for the season to 43 catches for 922 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Ballard gained 103 yards, scored a touchdown, and set a new MGCCC single-season rushing record (1,457) with at least one game remaining.
EMCC assistant coach/defensive backs Clifton Collins feels Hines will be ready for the challenge. He said Hines has raised his level of play in the second half of the season.
"He has been more focused and has been working hard in practice," Collins said. "He understands it is playoffs and he just has been playing faster toward the end of the season."
Collins said Hines dropped several passes that would have gone for interceptions early in the season. He said he has remained consistent and continued to be in the right position to make plays. He said Hines'' ability to take his game to another level has helped push the defense to play at a higher level.
"He wasn''t making great plays," Collins said. "Now he is starting to make the great plays."
Collins said Hines breaks on the ball as well as any player he has coached. He said he is excited to see how Hines and the rest of the secondary execute the scheme against the two-time defending state champions.
Hines also is motivated to show he can shine at this level. He feels he has raised his level of play from his freshman season and wants to help the Lions, who beat Jones County last week to reach the title game, extend their season.
"I feel our defense has always played well," Hines said. "Sometimes we have had a few mistakes, but I told my front line and linebackers if they stayed with run and shut it down me and the other safety and the cornerbacks were going to shut things down in the secondary, and that''s what we did (last week)."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.