August 20, 2013 10:23:34 AM
SCOOBA -- Jordan Lesley has coached football long enough to know not to mess with something that has been successful.
"Our No. 1 expectation around here is to play with great effort," said Lesley, who is in his first season as defensive coordinator at East Mississippi Community College. "I have never really seen a scheme win a ballgame. We focus on the little things because football is a simple game.
"There is no way you make wholesale changes when something is working so well."
Lesley spoke highly of his defense Monday afternoon at EMCC Media Day. The Lions fielded one of the program's all-time best defenses last season en route to an 8-2 record. Many who wear the red and black feel like this season could be even better.
"This defense is really going to surprise some people," EMCC sophomore linebacker Christian Russell said. "Everybody knows we lost some playmakers this season. What they don't know is how good we could be this year."
EMCC posted three shutouts, held two opponents to one touchdown, and held two other opponents to two touchdowns last season. Lesley knew the proper mind-set was established. Now it is all about focus and attention to detail.
"Every day in practice we are focusing on tackles and creating turnovers," Lesley said. "We are focusing on the few minor things that will allow a good team to become a great team. They have bought into a focus on the little things. We do those things every day in practice."
William Jones guided EMCC's defense the past five seasons. Jones left in the offseason to become head football coach at Pearl River C.C., EMCC's opponent in the Aug. 29 opener. The hiring of Lesley indicated the first change of coordinators on either side of the ball in Buddy Stephens' six seasons as coach at EMCC.
"We were fortunate to bring in someone of the caliber of Jordan Lesley," Stephens said. "I don't think you will see any major changes on defense. We are still going to play a physical, attacking brand of football on that side. It is all about making plays."
Lesley comes to EMCC after completing the second of two stints at Northwest Mississippi C.C. In his last stop, Lesley coached the defensive line in 2012. He also was a defensive assistant at Kilgore College.
Lesley credits defensive backs coach Clifton Collins as being a major influence during the transitional period.
"You evaluate a program and there is not a major reason to make a lot of changes," Lesley said. "In a two-year program, you want to keep a lot of things vanilla. I am just here to make suggestions on how we do things. You make a tweak here or there, and that is it.
"We have several talented players on this roster. It is their team. It is their defense. We challenge Christian Russell to become a leader on the field. He has accepted that role. It is all about the little things, though. You can't look big picture. You simply want to be 1-0."
EMCC struggled defensively down the stretch, including a 47-46 loss to Copiah-Lincoln C.C. in the MACJC state semifinals. The Lions are expected to rebound nicely. They are the favorite in the MACJC North Division and are No. 8 in the preseason national rankings.
"The coaches have been preaching you never know what one play will win a game," said EMCC sophomore defensive back Byerson Cockrell, who played at Columbus High School. "If you have a bad possession, you can come back and win the game with that next big play.
"It is all about detail. We are trying to make sure we do everything perfectly. The main thing is not letting up for a single play."
EMCC has established itself as a player on the national scene under Stevens. The Lions have won four North Division championships, two state championships, and the 2011 national championship. Lesley has watched the program blossom from a longtime rival's sidelines. He is excited about the opportunity to keep the program at a high level.
"The opportunity to come here was phenomenal," Lesley said. "It all starts with (president) Dr. (Rick) Young, (athletics director) Mickey Stokes, and (athletic academic advisor) Brittany Wagner-White. It is the vision they have for the student-athletes in this program. That is the biggest difference from here and anywhere else in the conference.
"Everybody is on the same page, and everybody is working together. Everybody here is working toward the success of these young men first and foremost in the classroom and then on the football field. At other schools, the football coaches lay the groundwork for the program. That is not the case here. It starts in the president's office and filters all the way down to the student-athletes. Everybody does their part."
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter