July 25, 2013 11:02:51 PM
John Davis believes the opportunity to be a head coach outweighs the uncertainty that accompanies his move from Lawrence County High School to East Oktibbeha County High.
The way Davis, a 2002 graduate of Starkville High, sees it, though, his decision to leave his job as offensive coordinator and to replace Randy Brooks as the Titans' head football coach was too good to pass up, even if he isn't sure if the program will be eligible to compete in the postseason or if the school will be open past this year.
"I feel the team has enough talent to go far," Davis said. "I am excited about it. There is a little bit of nervousness, but it is mainly excitement. I think there is enough talent that we can do some things this year. I feel like we can compete."
Davis also spent time as an assistant football coach at Grenada High and six years as an assistant varsity coach at West Point High. This is his first job as a head coach. He replaces Brooks, who went 11-22 in three seasons.
Davis, who will teach math at East Oktibbeha County High, was an offensive lineman at Starkville High. He said he heard numerous coaches talk about the talent and potential at the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 1A school in Crawford. He said the chance to be a head coach and a chance to come back home appealed to him, although he said Thursday he isn't sure if the football program will be eligible for the postseason.
Last school year, the Oktibbeha County schools lost their accreditation. As a result, West Oktibbeha County High and East Oktibbeha County High were declared ineligible any MHSAA postseason play and the schools' teams were limited to playing only district games.
Davis said Thursday the school still hadn't received a definite answer about the status of its sports teams. He said the hope is that the schools' test scores have gone up enough to allow its sports teams to compete in the postseason.
Last year, West Oktibbeha would have qualified for the Class 1A playoffs but was forced to miss the postseason.
Davis said he doesn't know when East Oktibbeha County High will find out if its sports teams are off probation.
"It is going to be a challenge to keep them motivated," Davis said, "but we gave them the news that there is a chance we may still be on probation. It upset a few of them, but after talking to them and explaining it I still don't know. We still plan to win every game. They're excited about (the season). Whether we make the playoffs or not, we're going to be contending for it."
East Oktibbeha County High hasn't had a winning season since 2006, its last playoff appearance. Brooks took over the program for Anthony King two weeks before the start of the 2010 season. His first team went 4-7. In 2011, the Titans started 5-1 and 3-0 in Region 3, but they lost their final five games to miss out on a chance to get to the postseason. Brooks led East Oktibbeha County High to a 2-9 finish last season.
Brooks will remain a teacher at the school as well as the girls basketball and boys and girls track and field coach. With his 52nd birthday on July 31, Brooks said it was time to step away from football.
"I still have a full plate, but I will still be around to help out in any capacity I can," Brooks said. "What I am most proud of is I helped six guys move on to the next level in the past two years."
Last year, Steve Bell and Eddie Young received opportunities to play football at Holmes Community College.
Brooks said the possible consolidation of WOCHS and EOCHS is "beyond our control" and that Oktibbeha County Schools always have been a good place to work. He admits he will miss coaching football in some ways, but he also knows it took a lot of work, especially at times when he didn't have a large support staff to help him.
"I think I left the program in better shape than it was when coach King left us," Brooks said. "I was offensive and defensive coordinator at one time. I feel good about what we were able to accomplish. The kids learned they are students first and athletes second, and we played disciplined football."
Davis knows he, too, might have to assume multiple roles this season, particularly since he said he doesn't have any paid assistant coaches set to help him. He said Bo Williams has agreed to be a volunteer assistant coach.
But the lack of help hasn't stopped Davis and the Titans from working. He said the team has been doing conditioning and weight training four days a week to prepare for the start of practice. Davis said the Titans have averaged 14 players at their workouts.
"There is definitely talent here," Davis said. "We have some good size and some good speed. I just think it is a matter of getting them motivated and teaching them a few fundamentals and putting people in the right spots.
"A lot of coaches have talked about how East Oktibbeha can be a sleeper team if it gets the right offense and defense going there and that it could compete for state championships."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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