September 3, 2013 9:48:00 PM
Tyrone Shorter had to reinvent himself a little in this his third season as head coach at Noxubee County High School.
After winning 26 of his first 29 games with the Tigers, there is little doubt a plan was in place and the plan was working.
As successful as that may sound, he quickly realized one plan does not fit all teams.
This season, the Tigers' largest class is the sophomore one. On some snaps of Friday night's 21-10 win over Columbus, as many as seven sophomores were on the field -- both offensively and defensively.
A year ago, senior after senior helped re-write the school's record book as the team won all 16 games it played and the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 4A state championship.
This season, starters have been learning how to drive, while learning a playbook.
Shorter had a heart-to-heart with his coaching staff last spring.
"I knew we would have to coach this team differently," Shorter said. "Instead of yelling and brow-beating, we decided to go with patience -- lots of patience. We stay calm. We stay rational. When a team this young, I just felt that was the best way to get results."
Shorter is not publicly predicting another state championship this season. Personally, I would put this bunch in Jackson playing for the title, yet again.
Shorter also did not predict an 0-5 start. However, deep down, he most likely knew it was possible.
Noxubee County's first five opponents -- Starkville, Columbus, Louisville, Aberdeen and West Point -- combined to win 51 games against 19 defeats last season, with three regional titles.
The Tigers have traditionally loaded the non-region schedule to make the team ready for region play. With certain contracts needing to be honored, Noxubee County bit the bullet and kept the rigorous schedule this year.
To have already snagged a victory against Columbus is monumental. Any young team needs reinforcement that what they are doing is correct.
Players have repeatedly talked about tradition, pride and the expectations of the program. Noxubee County has not lost back-to-back games since 2006, when that particular squad lost its final four and finished 4-5.
Still, to talk about not wanting to lose and to actually not lose are two different things entirely.
Noxubee County made a truckload of mistakes in a 17-0 season-opening defeat to Starkville. Still, one had to like the size of the Tigers, the speed of the Tigers and the mannerisms of the Tigers.
That goes for the coaches and for the players. Patience at its finest was on display on the sidelines that Friday night.
A week later, Noxubee County did a few things better. The Tigers still had penalties and they had three turnovers. However, you could tell that strides had made and the hard work was paid off quicker than expected, with a surprisingly-nice second-week victory.
Noxubee County will need all of those positive thoughts going into Friday night's matchup with Louisville. The now Class 3A Wildcats are senior-laden and ready to make amends for two defeats to the Tigers last season -- in the regular season and the Class 4A playoffs.
"The schedule is what we make of it," Shorter said. "We know in November (in the playoffs), we will not face anywhere near what we are facing in these first five games. The young guys come out wide-eyed every day but they are learning."
KEEPING IT GOING
Earlier this year, one of the mos impressive things I have been able to attend was the National Signing Day ceremony at Noxubee County.
A total of 13 Tigers signed senior college scholarships that day. When you have that large a group advancing to the next level, it tells you two things -- first, the team was immensely talented and second, the coaches and administrators stayed on top of these players to make sure they did everything right to be in line to graduate.
Already impressed by the Noxubee County program on the field, this inside glimpse at the family members, school officials and coaching staff helped me understand what makes the Noxubee County program tick even more.
The good news for Shorter is that the senior college recruiters won't be calling at all hours this season. This group of Tigers will have their own signing day success stories down the road, but that time is way on down the road.
In the meanwhile, the Tigers will keep learning and keep growing. Shorter will rewind the tape a few more times than usual. Practice will be halted more often, until the perfect route is run.
Still, the final horn will sound each Friday night this fall and it is a safe best, Noxubee County will be the winners in the handshake line many more times than not. And yes, that could include in Jackson, as well.
Scott Walters is a reporter for the Dispatch. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @dispatchscott.
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter