October 3, 2012 10:47:00 AM
MACON -- The distractions are dizzying.
From the banner that hangs on the wall in the weight room celebrating the 2008 state championship team to the memory of a disappointing loss to Amory in the 2011 North State playoffs to the No. 1 ranking in the state's latest Class 4A rankings, Noxubee County High School football coach Tyrone Shorter has plenty ammunition to keep his team focused.
Shorter and the Tigers (7-0) picked up another source of motivation last week. Even though Noxubee County stretched its shut out streak to four games in a 29-0 victory against Kosciusko, the Tigers led just 8-0 at halftime and didn't play up to Shorter's championship standards. A bad week of practice preceded the victory in the Class 4A, Region 4 opener and gave Shorter and senior leaders plenty to talk about entering their game at 7 p.m. Friday at Leake Central (3-4).
"We had two turnovers in our first two possessions and it threw the whole game off. Anything could have happened," Shorter said. "We were fortunate. Kosciusko has great field position both times and we kept them out of the end zone. Any little thing can change the momentum of a football game, and it happened to us Friday night. I am glad it happened to us early."
Shorter said the Kosciusko game couldn't help remind him about his team's 21-20 loss at Amory last week in the second round of the Class 4A North State playoffs. In that game, Noxubee County never found a rhythm on offense and still had a chance to win the game.
The specter of the Amory game popped up at halftime of the Kosciusko game. Shorter said he heard some of his players talking about how the first half of the Kosciusko game resembled the team's performance against Amory. Instead of coming out of the coaches meeting and ripping his players, Shorter re-focused them and challenged them to raise their intensity and execution. He also noticed Bradley and senior quarterback DeAngelo Ballard took the initiative at halftime. He saw both players talk to their defensive and offensive teammates in groups and chastise them for their sluggish play. He said things like that give him confidence this year's team has the leaders it will need to avoid distractions.
"Listening to them, I still know that (the Amory game) still hurts those kids," Shorter said. "We came out of the coaches meeting and really didn't have anything to say (because of what Bradley and Ballard did). That makes me realize this team has some leaders and this team wants to win. These guys came out in the second half and played better."
Shorter has used the 2008 Noxubee County team as a primary source of motivation. That squad recorded seven shutouts en route to a 14-0 finish and the school's first football state title. In 2009, Noxubee County posted 10 shutouts, including six in a row to end the regular season, but lost to Itawamba Agricultural 29-14 in the third round of the Class 4A North State playoffs.
Several of the seniors on this season's team, including running back Darrell Robinson and defensive linemen Dylan Bradley and Javancy Jones, were freshmen in the program in 2009. Shorter said those three and several others were moved up to the varsity team after the freshman team's season.
Shorter said the 2008 team is similar to this year's team in that it was an experienced group. Unlike last season when the Tigers didn't have a lot of seniors and vocal leaders, Shorter said the presence of 23 seniors will help keep the team on the right path. He couldn't explain why the team had a bad week of practice last week, but he believes it will be help his team not make that mistake again.
"That senior group didn't really have anybody who would tell the guys anything like what the kids did Friday night," Shorter said. "Last year, these guys were juniors and they really were more leaders than the seniors. This year, I still think they see and feel the hurt from the Amory game, and they don't want to feel that way again. I think that is why this group works so hard.
"This group reminds me of the 2008 team because we have a bunch of practice. We had a bunch of guys who loved to come to practice and competed at practice, and these guys are the same way."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.