August 14, 2013 9:56:50 PM
MACON -- The reminders are everywhere.
Tyrone Shorter only has to look up from his desk and see a wall filled with championship memories. Prominently displayed is a brown, wooden plaque with a picture of running back Darrell Robinson and a story about the Noxubee County High School football team's 16-6 victory against Greene County in the 2012 Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 4A State title game.
A little to the right are pictures of the players from the 2012 team dressed out in shirts and ties and pictures of the coaches from the 2008 state championship team.
Both teams -- 16-0 last season and 14-0 in 2008 -- went undefeated and helped solidify the Tigers' place as one of the state's best programs.
As with all perennial powers, Shorter knows two isn't enough, and that is one of his primary concerns as he and Noxubee County High prepare to kick off the defense of their championship at 3 p.m. Saturday against Northwest Rankin in the New Hope High Jamboree at Mississippi State University's Davis Wade Stadium.
The scrimmage is one of six on a day that begins at 9 a.m. with West Lowndes vs. Caledonia and follows with a who's who of some of the state's top teams. Aberdeen will take on Kosciusko at 11 a.m., Louisville will face West Point at 1 p.m., Grenada will play Columbus at 5 p.m., and defending Class 5A state champion Starkville, which has moved up to Class 6A, will take on New Hope at 7 p.m.
In each scrimmage, the varsity teams will play one regulation half followed by a regulation quarter of junior varsity action. Kicking will be done in varsity play. The won't be kicking in JV action. All fans will sit on the home side of the stadium. Admission is $7, and concessions will be available.
For Shorter, the scrimmage will be his first chance to see his players in new uniforms. The 2013 Tigers will have to find a way to replace the loss to 23 seniors to graduation. Those seniors played an instrumental role in helping the program record its first 16-0 season.
Despite its youth, Shorter likes the potential of his young group. The Tigers return four starters on defense and two starters on offense. That dearth of experience hasn't stopped Tiger fans in Macon and in Noxubee County from talking about a repeat. Shorter hopes all of that talk won't distract a young team, especially since it faces arguably the state's toughest non-district schedule: Starkville, Columbus, Louisville, at Aberdeen, and West Point. Louisville, which moved down to Class 3A to join Aberdeen, are the only schools smaller than Noxubee County.
"A lot of people are asking that question: How do you replace 23 seniors?" Shorter said. "Those guys were very important. I think out of those 23 seniors you might have had 17 starters. I like this football team. We';re young in a lot of areas and a lot of positions, but defensively I think we are quicker than last year. We might not be as physical as last year's bunch, but we have some tall, rangy kids who are going to run to the football. A lot of those defensive guys got to play a lot last year, so there is some experience there. We only have two returning starters on offense, so we are looking for our 12 or 13 seniors to step up and be leaders."
MaxPreps.com lists Noxubee County No. 8 on a list of the state of Mississippi's top football dynasties. With 109 victories since 2003, Noxubee County is tied with West Point and Lafayette is tied for fourth on the list. Only South Panola (140 victories), which is ranked No. 1, Wayne County (No. 2), and Meridian (No. 3) have more wins (114, 110). Noxubee County has won at least 10 games in eight of the past 10 seasons.
That history makes it easy to understand why fans can use the word reload instead of rebuild. Still, Shorter doesn't want the expectations of fans to derail what could be a promising season, especially if the Tigers stumble in the first two months against a brutal schedule.
Shorter knows his team's first step Saturday will help build momentum for a season-opening battle of state champions. He hopes the thought of another state title serves as motivation for a hungry group of young Tigers. If it isn't, he knows the people of Macon and Noxubee County will help keep the players in check.
"These kids don't want to be that tea that misses the playoffs or has a losing record, so they are working their tails off to try to keep the tradition going," Shorter said. "They know what is expected of the. We have some athletes, but we are young. We are still searching and trying to put the kids in the right positions. The kids we have we feel good about. We know we are going to have a lot of growing pains because we are looking at starting a lot of sophomores and juniors."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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