May 15, 2009
MACON -- Vincent Sanders and Gussie Lane already can hear the haters.
They likely are some of the same people who said the Noxubee County football team got lucky in 2007 when it advanced to the Class 4A state title game.
Those doubters rejoiced when Laurel edged Noxubee County 19-16 to win the 2007 championship.
The chatter kicked up again last year as the Tigers set out on a mission to finish the drill and win a Class 4A state title.
Their hard work and team unity silenced the critics and D''Iberville in a 12-10 victory that gave the Tigers their elusive crown.
And while Noxubee County has earned respect around the state, Sanders and Lane know those haters will be back, likely sooner than later.
Noxubee County will have its first opportunity to prove the skeptics wrong at 6:45 p.m. Saturday when it takes on Provine in Jackson in its spring game.
"The kids are excited about it and ready to play," Noxubee County coach M.C. Miller said. "We haven''t got the time in that we really need due to the weather and the rain and other things. But (I have been most pleased) with the offensive line. They are doing a good job. If we can keep them going we should have a good running game."
Lane, a senior, should anchor an offensive line that figures to be the team''s most experienced group. That unit should to do a lot of blocking for Earnest Harmon, who should be the team''s most experienced returning running back.
Lane said the experience of winning a state title has prepared the team to play on a big state again this season.
"I think we have a lot of confidence," Lane said. "We know what we''re capable of doing it, and the coaches are pushing us to do it. They expect the best out of us."
The Tigers lost several key components last season''s team, including wide receivers Patrick Patterson and Teddy Young and quarterback Termarcus Conner.
The defense also will be without key players like Deontae Skinner and Jimmy Roby.
In all, 14 played from the 2008 squad earned opportunities to go on to play football in college.
There are several more on the 2009 team, including Sanders, who has earned invitations to participate in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl and the annual Under Armour game.
"It means a lot because coming up I never thought I would be in this position to be nominated for the top high school games," Sanders said. "It is a lot of motivation coming into this season."
Miller said he would like to keep Sanders at wide receiver this season but he is ready and willing to move him to quarterback if the other competitors at that position (Shaunny Roby and Jared Johnson) don''t pan out.
Sanders said it doesn''t matter where he plays this season. He said he will be ready wherever he plays because he is anxious to prove the doubters wrong.
"We proved them wrong last year, and (all of the talk) doesn''t matter," Sanders said. "We''re just going to go out and give it our all on Friday and get the job done."
Miller said the Tigers will be busy in the offseason and attend as many 7-on-7 passing camps as they can, including ones at Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Southern Miss, Alabama, and East Mississippi Community College.
The traveling will be expensive, but Miller hopes the booster club will continue to do a fine job supporting the program and that people in the community will do what they can do help the Tigers prepare for the 2009 season.
Until then, the Tigers will continue to fine tune things and build that team chemistry to make another title run.
"We''re not where we were last year at this point," Miller said. "We''re a long way from there. But we think we can get to a point where we will be competitive. Our first few ballgames will be hard on us because of the experience, but we understand that. If we can work, and work, and work, and if we can keep playing we will be ready by district time."
Noxubee County will remain in Class 4A this season, but it and Caledonia will welcome Amory, Houston, Kosciusko, and Louisville, the two-time defending Class 3A champion, into Region 4.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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