August 16, 2012 11:00:59 PM
Defense will remain a point of emphasis for at least three area high school football teams that open their 2012 seasons tonight.
While the Columbus, New Hope, and Noxubee County high school teams work to get their offenses to jell, the defenses of each team will be relied on to hold serve and to make big plays.
Columbus coach Tony Stanford knows his offense is a work in progress. Despite having Mississippi State University verbal commitment Jake Thomas up front, the Falcons are working to replace four starters on the offensive line. That will be a key area at 7:30 tonight when Columbus plays host to Class 3A contender Aberdeen.
"When you lose four of five starters it is a process you have to recuperate from," Stanford said. "We hope to get better as the season goes on."
Stanford said game action is the best remedy for inexperience. He said teams can practice as hard as they want but it is the repetitions under the lights on Friday nights that are the true tests. He said he doesn't put a lot of stock into his team's showing Saturday in a 0-0 tie against Noxubee County at the New Hope High School Jamboree. Columbus' offense struggled, gaining positive yardage on only four plays. Stanford said junior quarterback Trace Lee played well, but that the Falcons' wide receivers and running backs had to do a better job. He said fullbacks Corey Brown and Jock Clark would work with tailbacks Kevin Jackson, Kendrick Conner, and Quan Latham to give the Falcons options.
"They have to learn to make big plays when it is their turn," Stanford said.
While the offense finds its stride, Stanford said Columbus will count on its defense. Led by Latham and a stout defensive line, the Falcons stuffed Noxubee County at the 1-yard line to preserve the scoreless tie.
"We just hope the defense is going to keep you in the game and you get the right play to win the game," Stanford said.
Stanford said his goal is to use Latham, a senior, in about 20 plays on offense a game. He said it is imperative younger players mature quickly to give the Falcons the depth they need because Latham is so valuable on defense.
New Hope coach Michael Bradley already has moved one of his top defensive players from 2011 to offense for this season. Bradley's hope is that senior Q Newby, who will play fullback, gives the Trojans a consistent ground game to complement sophomore quarterback Brady Davis. As that unit comes together, Bradley will look for the defense to play a big role at 7:30 tonight when New Hope plays host to Louisville.
"We have to play more physical and play with more team concepts and just stop making too many mental mistakes," Bradley said. "In order for us to have success we have to do the little things. We have to believe in the fact to be successful we have to play together, we have to play hard, we have to play with passion and intensity, and we have to do the little things other people aren't willing to do."
Bradley will look to seniors Tee Payne and Trae Collins to help the defense set the tone. He feels this year's defense has the potential to be as good as he has had in his time as head coach at the school.
"We have the speed, skill, size, and strength," Bradley said. "Whether we put it all together is yet to be seen. The potential is there on defense, and on offense. ... Yes, we're going to depend on our defense to carry us early."
Bradley said another key will be his team's ability to outwork, outhustle, outthink, and outprepare opponents. He feels those four things combined with belief could make a potent mix.
"Potential is a big word," Bradley said. "Yes, the potential is there. We have the potential to be a good football team. I have to do my job better, our coaches have to do their jobs better, and the players have to do their jobs better. It all starts with me, so I have to do my job better."
Tyrone Shorter isn't sure his defense can play much better than it did against Columbus. But the Noxubee County coach knows it will have to try at 7:30 tonight when it plays at Class 5A runner-up Starkville. The Tigers will get a boost with the return of senior defensive lineman Dillon Bradley, who was held out of the jamboree to protect against injury. Bradley suffered a shoulder injury in the 2011 jamboree that plagued him throughout the year and forced him to have surgery at the end of the season.
"Our first four or five games are very tough," Shorter said. "To have this type of challenge early will tell a lot about our team. It will really be a test for us. Our defense will have to come to play because if they don't we are going to get embarrassed."
With eight returning starters back on defense, Shorter knows secondary is the only area where the Tigers lack experience. Tonight, he said three sophomores will start, which is why he will count on the defensive front, led by Bradley and senior Javancy Jones, to pressure senior quarterback Gabe Myles.
"We feel good about our defense, but we know if we make mistakes it can get ugly with the type of offense Starkville has."
As for his offense, Shorter continues to see signs senior Deangelo Ballard is maturing into a leader. He hopes Ballard can continue to pick his spots and read the game to give his receivers and running backs, including senior Darrell Robinson, time to make plays.
If that happens, the Tigers will be able to sit back and rely on their defense to seal the deal.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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