August 27, 2009 1:15:00 PM
MACON -- Programs don''t win state championships with one player.
Standouts can play key roles, but the labors of one player will take a team only so far.
The Noxubee County High School football team intends to show people in the state of Mississippi it is more than one player.
The Tigers will return to the field at 7:30 p.m. Friday against Columbus without quarterback/wide receiver/free safety Vincent Sanders, who will miss at least three weeks with a fractured jaw.
Noxubee County coach M.C. Miller said he isn''t sure how much time Sanders will miss because his standout player wasn''t in school for the first three days this week.
Miller believes Sanders, who fractured his jaw last Friday in the fourth quarter of the Tigers'' 30-0 victory against Starkville, will be back in school today. He hopes Sanders will be able to eat enough to keep his weight up and to stay in condition while he waits for his jaw to heal and to be cleared to resume workouts.
In the meantime, the defending Class 4A state champions have moved on and have accepted the fact that they will be without one of their top playmakers for at least the next few weeks.
"We have a talented group," Miller said. "Some of them don''t have the experience that others have, but they are going to be good down the line
"Vincent has been through it. He is a senior with a lot of leadership and a lot of experience. (Not having him) is going to hurt on the field on offense and defense."
Miller said Sanders'' absence will hurt the Tigers equally on both sides of the ball. He said Sanders'' presence in the secondary often forced teams to shy away from throwing the ball deep.
On offense, sophomore Jared Johnson will take the snaps at quarterback in place of Sanders.
Johnson saw limited duty last Friday in his return from a five-game suspension from leaving school grounds to go to a local store to get food.
Johnson admitted he was embarrassed about the punishment but said he has learned from it and that he is ready to move into the starting lineup and do what he needs to do to help the team win.
"I just want to control the ball, not turn it over, and do what (offensive coordinator James) Patterson tells me to do," Johnson said. "I don''t want to try to do too much."
Johnson said a week of practice should help him be in better condition to earn his first varsity start. He has noticed the team has had a more serious attitude in practice without Sanders.
Miller praised the play of Johnson in the preseason. He said Johnson showed in the team''s performances at 7-on-7 passing camps at Mississippi State and at the University of Mississippi and at the University of Alabama that he could lead the team.
"The only thing I am worried about is we don''t have that experience and getting that experience against a tough team like Columbus, who is coming off a win and playing good," Miller said. "They''re going to make us work. They have a good group and a good coaching staff. It is just a matter of time before Bubba Davis is going to put it all together."
Senior Patreon Hopkins likely will step in for Sanders in the secondary. Hopkins also said he is ready to assume a larger role in the offense at running back.
Hopkins led the Tigers with 69 yards rushing against Starkville. His 61-yard touchdown run in the third quarter put the finishing touches on the victory.
On Friday, Hopkins said he will look to play a variety of roles to help the offense move the ball.
"I think not having Vincent will affect us more on offense because he is a roll-out quarterback who can make things happen with his arm or his legs," Hopkins said. "On defense, we have guys we can put in at the safety position who can play.
"We''re just going to try to encourage our players that just because we lost Vincent for a couple of games or however long he is going to be out that we are still the same team. We still have to put 11 on the field and everybody has to put forth the effort to win."
Miller said seniors Earnest Harmon and Jontae Skinner are two other weapons at running back the Tigers will look to to control the game on the ground.
"(Patreon) is just as good a runner as Vincent when he gets his hands on the ball," Miller said in reference to who will handle the team''s kick return duties. "Vincent is gone, and he definitely will be missed. We''re just going to have to get somebody else step up and make it go from there."
Last season, Miller said the Tigers were able to overcome early season injuries at linebacker to Skinner and Corey Williams because the team had plenty of depth. Noxubee County lost 13 seniors to graduation, including Dandy Dozen wide receiver Patrick Patterson, who is vying for playing time at Ole Miss.
"We don''t have that depth and if someone goes down now we will have to go deeper into our depth chart and move people around to get that same type level player," Miller said. "We''re not going to get a player like Vince back there, but we hope to put somebody in there who can do the job."
Patterson played a key role in the Tigers'' 12-10 victory against D''Iberville in the Class 4A state title game.
Sanders also caught a touchdown pass from Termarcus Conner to help the Tigers win their first state title.
All three of those players are gone, and even though Sanders, a member of The Clarion-Ledger''s Dandy Dozen this season, is expected to return, Hopkins knows the Tigers will have to work even harder to make up for his absence.
"As long as everybody does their job, we can''t be beat," Hopkins said. "We push each other at practice to get better and better."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.