August 26, 2009 9:19:00 AM
SCOOBA -- East Mississippi Community College football coach Buddy Stephens describes the center position as the "traffic cop" of the offensive line.
The center is crucial in alerting guards and tackles to the location of an opponent''s linebackers.
Centers also make calls for the offensive line that allow adjustments for the correct stance before the football is snapped.
Former Columbus High School standout Billy Autrey has worked his way into a starting position at center at EMCC and will showcase his talents when the Lions travel to Copiah-Lincoln on Thursday for their first game of the season.
Autrey describes the recent preseason training camp as a week of intense daylong commitments.
"In training camp our linemen get up and go out on the practice field and hit each other for an hour and a half," Autrey said. "Then we watch film of what we did, have lunch and then come back out at 6 p.m. for practice. Sometimes we go out in the afternoon with the special teams. On those days it''s three-a-day practices."
This past fall at Columbus High, Autrey played guard due to an injury to an offensive lineman.
"I played center from third grade until my senior year at Columbus High and played guard that year out of necessity," Autrey said.
Autrey maintains that playing center is his preferred position. He is glad to be back at that position at EMCC.
Stephens believes Autrey has the talent to play any position on the offensive line and he Stephens has been impressed with Autrey''s work ethic and determination.
"Billy has picked up our scheme really well," Stephens said. "He has done everything we''ve asked him. The speed of the game is different at this level and he has adjusted to it well. His ultimate goal is to play Division 1. When you come in as a freshman you see them going 90 miles an hour. The key is to be able to slow down the game and not let it out pace you. Billy has done that. Billy can play anywhere on the front. He is the right person to have at the center position."
Autrey contrasts play as a high school center verses his new role as a Lions'' starter.
"We have to make a lot of calls," Autrey said. "There is a lot more thought process in the center position whereas you pull a lot more as a guard. You have to be able to read the opposing players and determine which way they may be going or if they are blitzing. In high school we did not make as many calls. Now we call the up and down stances."
Stephens echoes Autrey''s assessment of the center position.
"The center gets everybody situated and keeps them in line," Stephens said. "He directs blocking schemes and keeps control of everything that''s going on. We ask our guys to play hard and play to the whistle. We ask them to out run and out hustle their opponent. Guards set the width and tackle set the depth. The center directs it all. We have a good group of guys on the line this year. They communicate well with each other."
Not only has Autrey made an immediate impression on the practice field but his classroom performance this past summer was perfect. He earned a 4.0 GPA in 12 semester hours of summer school course work. "I am majoring in physical therapy," Autrey said. "I enjoy being around the training staff and hopefully I can go into something like that. My goal is to be an academic all -American. Also, I want to help our team win a lot of games, win the state, and hopefully win a bowl game.
The EMCC coaching staff expects great things for the season. Anchoring the offensive line will be a new face at EMCC but one that brings immediate impact to continue the Lions'' quest for a division title and state championship.
When football season ends, Autrey will not have too much down time. He plays first base and is a relief pitcher for EMCC''s baseball team.
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