August 21, 2009 9:26:00 AM
So much for scheduling a cream puff in your season opener.
Columbus High School''s Bubba Davis, West Point High''s Chris Chambless, and Noxubee County''s M.C. Miller all have high hopes for their football teams this season.
They agree there is no better way to put those hopes to the test than to schedule a difficult opponent in the first game of the season.
Each coach will get to do that tonight when Columbus plays host to Aberdeen, West Point travels to Shannon, and Noxubee County plays host to Starkville.
All games will begin at 7:30 p.m.
Starkville High''s Bill Lee also deserves a place at the table. The Clarion Ledger said earlier this week that the Yellow Jackets, who moved from Class 5A to 6A this season, have the state''s toughest schedule.
Starkville returns home after playing defending Class 4A state champion Noxubee County to play host to Louisville, which won the past two Class 3A state titles and has moved up to Class 4A this year, Meridian, which beat South Panola to win the Class 5A championship and now is in Class 6A, and West Point.
Those games will get the Yellow Jackets ready for a Region 1, District 2 schedule that includes DeSoto Central, Tupelo, Horn Lake, Southaven, Olive Branch, South Panola, and Columbus.
The Clarion Ledger said the Falcons, who went 1-10 last season, have the state''s second-toughest schedule.
Columbus will travel to Noxubee County and to West Point before it takes a week off. It then will play host to Louisville before it kicks off its district schedule Sept. 25 with a home game against Tupelo.
While some coaches would like to ease into the season, especially with as many sophomores in key positions as the Falcons, Davis wants to see how his kids react. He said the schedule will test their mental focus and ability to put a bad play behind them and regroup for the next snap.
Davis, who is in his second season at Columbus, said the Falcons had "probably the best week of practice we have ever had for three days in a row" earlier this week. He hopes the quality of the practices is a reflection of his players'' maturity and the fact they understand a whole lot more of what the coaches want and how they want things done.
Davis said Aberdeen coach Chris Duncan called him to see if he could schedule a matchup this season. He said he wasn''t surprised because the Bulldogs are expected to be a state tile contender in Class 3A.
He believes it is only natural for a smaller classification team to want to test itself against a local team in a higher classification.
Davis said Columbus'' challenge will be to match Aberdeen''s intensity and not to allow reports of an expected undefeated season by the Bulldogs throw it off its game.
"When you tee it up, it doesn''t make a difference if you''re 1A, 2A, or 3A," Davis said. "You have to play, and we''re preparing to win."
Davis said finding quality opponents that are close to Columbus always will be one of his primary goals. He said he expects Aberdeen to bring a good crowd for tonight''s game, which should help Columbus High''s gate.
"The atmosphere should be great for the kids," Davis said. "We feel like we have as much talent as a lot of people we play. We think we''re in as good condition. We feel strength wise we match up. Mentally, we have to deal with the things you deal with in becoming a winner. We have to block all of the other things out and get in our mind what happen (tonight). We have to forget about South Panola, West Point, and Noxubee County. We''re not dealing with them. We have to deal with Aberdeen."
Chambless agrees and said that is what helps make Shannon be the ideal season opener.
Last year, the Green Wave, who finished 8-3, earned a 21-14 victory that helped them build a promising start. But injuries ultimately played a key role in West Point''s loss to Lafayette County in the first round of the Class 4A North Half State playoffs.
This season, West Point is No. 9 in The Clarion Ledger''s preseason top 10 ranking of the state''s best teams.
Chambless said the ranking hasn''t put any more pressure on him or his players because West Point is used to being in that position.
The trick this season, he said, is not to have six turnovers like the Green Wave did against Lafayette County.
A healthy season for senior wide receiver Michael Carr, a Mississippi State commitment, also will play an integral role.
"We do our best to live up to the expectations everybody has for us every year," Chambless said. "You can''t please everybody but you try. What we do is work as hard as we can and the rest will take care of itself."
Chambless said the Green Wave seem to be closer as a team than they were last season. He hasn''t heard any of his players talk about the ranking or the talk that West Point is a favorite to come out of the North half of the state to play for a state title.
"You get a sense of it every year, but you can always talk the talk but you have to walk the walk," Chambless said. "I think this year''s team has more of a sense of urgency to walk the walk. If they don''t they have me fooled."
Chambless said he tries not to be someone who is easily fooled, so he hopes that is the case.
Having leaders like Carr, Xavier Hogan, Jeremy Cannon, and offensive lineman/fullback Lee Crowley, among others, always helps.
"I think the leadership has been exceptional," Chambless said. "It started in the offseason, and the players don''t want what happened last year to happen again."
Noxubee County lost a talented senior class that helped the school go 14-0 and win its first state title.
But Noxubee County coach M.C. Miller isn''t standing pat. He knows every team will give its best effort against the Tigers, which is why he wanted to find a quality opponent that could test his team right away.
"We have been practicing OK, but we have not been practicing like we should or like we could," Miller said. "We have been getting it done, but I can''t say how well we are right now. I''d say we''re a few weeks behind."
Miller said his team will have a different look this season with senior Vincent Sanders at quarterback. Miller said he planned to use Sanders at wide receiver, but an injury to quarterback Jared Johnson has forced him to change that plan.
Miller said Johnson might play some tonight at quarterback, but he said he will go with Sanders behind center and hopes it doesn''t affect his team against a quality opponent.
"It is going to be hard because Starkville has a good ballclub and has a lot of people back from last year," Miller said. "They are pretty big and have a lot of skill people and have a good quarterback. They really have a balanced team.
"Once we go through the first part of our schedule I think we will be ready because we will have played bigger schools (including Columbus). It is going to be a matter of going through the first part of the schedule and not getting beat up too bad."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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