September 10, 2013 7:53:11 PM
SCOOBA - For Dontreal Pruitt, wearing a No. 1 on his football uniform is symbolic.
"At Laurel High School, I started late in my freshman year," Pruitt said. "So, I really had to learn how to take a leadership role early. Being a leader is something that I am used to. I can't wait to lead my new team to great games and to championships."
Pruitt, a 5-foot-11, 175-pounder, has assumed the starting quarterback role this season for fifth-ranked East Mississippi Community College. The Lions look for a 3-0 start Thursday night when Southwest Mississippi Community College comes to Sullivan-Windham Field.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. in Scooba.
"I have been really blessed by the opportunity that (Coach Buddy) Stephens gave me," Pruitt said. "Not only did I have chance to come play for a great program, I also had a chance to earn a lot of playing time as a freshman. That experience will certainly help me this season."
Stephens is in his sixth season as head coach at EMCC. Under his watch, the Lions have been known as the state's most prolific offense. EMCC runs up-tempo with no huddle and attempts to snap the ball within five seconds of the completion of the last play.
During its 8-2 campaign last season, EMCC had four games, where it ran 90 or more offensive plays, with the Lions snapping the ball an amazing 108 times in a 47-46 semifinal loss to Copiah-Lincoln Community College in the MACJC state semifinals.
"We have a tremendous amount of confidence in Dontreal," Stephens said. "He has worked awfully hard during the off-season and has really developed as a quarterback and as a leader. We are going to turn the offense over to him and we are pretty excited about the potential there."
During EMCC's 2011 national championship run, current Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace led the nation with 4,604 passing yards on a 12-game schedule. Last season, current Florida Atlantic quarterback Quez Johnson was third in the nation with 280.5 yards per game and eighth overall with 2,805 yards for EMCC.
As Johnson's backup, Pruitt appeared in six games last season, while throwing for 247 yards and five touchdowns. This season, he has thrown for 555 yards and six touchdowns through two games.
"I got to play a lot last year and got to see a lot of different situations," Pruitt said. "It is exciting to know now that this is my team. The coaches have placed a lot of confidence in me to become the starter. In this offense, the quarterback makes it go. He is in charge of putting up some massive numbers. Sometimes, you are blown away when you see the passing numbers from the system on paper.
"Fortunately, we have an amazing amount of good players around me. People are going to see something special."
When the ball is snapped, the quarterback has at least five passing options, including a halfback or tailback out of the backfield. Regardless of where a possession starts, EMCC attempts to complete all drives in two minutes or less.
"We need Dontreal to be our mailman," Stephens said. "He needs to be the distributor. He needs to get the ball where it needs to go. In our offense, we put a tremendous workload on our quarterback. It is an advantage when you have a second-year player in your program ready to take over.
"Dontreal got a lot of playing time last year and made some really good contributions."
Former West Point High School standout Lakenderic Thomas has rushed for a team-high four touchdowns and likes what Pruitt brings to the table behind center.
"Even though Dontreal is small in size, he has cannon for an arm," said Thomas, who hooked up with Pruitt for his lone pass receiving touchdown last season. "I think people are really surprised when they see him turn it loose. He has made a lot of strides in camp and has really turned into a polished passer.
"He can run the ball and throw the ball. Ever since that touchdown (in a win over Southwest Mississippi Community College), our chemistry has been tight. We got some special play-makers this year. It is going to be a lot of fun for folks to watch us play."
Last season, EMCC won its first eight games and actually extended a two-season win streak to 20 games. Then at 8-0 with a No. 3 national ranking, EMCC saw its hopes of a repeat national championship dashed by a 24-23 loss to Itawamba Community College and its hopes of a repeat state championship dashed by the playoff loss to Co-Lin.
"It all came down to the little things," Pruitt said. "We didn't do the little things right in the last couple of games. Things came too easy there for a while and we just lost our focus and didn't do the things that we needed to do to be successful.
"I think that has been a major motivation for this season. We have come to practice early and stayed late paying attention to detail. Doing the little things is what turns a good team into a great team. The coaches don't want us to dwell on last season but they do want us to learn from it."
EMCC has had a rich tradition under Stephens. The Lions have won four North Division championships and are the pre-season pick for a fifth title. EMCC has also won the first two state championships in the program's history as well as the 2011 national championship.
Both expectations and the talent level are extremely high in a program where 8-2 is now considered a disappointment. Pruitt will be backed up by former all-state performer Todd Mays of Olive Branch High School, who has transferred back to EMCC from Arkansas State University. Stephens estimates that as many as 60 percent of the team's offensive plays could be run with both players on the field.
"The play-makers will be on the field," Stephens said. "The offensive capabilities of this team are really unlimited."
For Pruitt, play making began in his earliest days at Laurel High School. The career there ended with a 13-2 record in 2011, including the Mississippi High School Activities Association's Class 4A South State championship.
"In the locker room, you want to be surrounded by winners," Pruitt said. "We have players here who won big games and played for championships. In a recent team meeting, (Charleston High School freshman) Kameron Myers reminded us that we were all from big-time programs and that we were all big-time players.
"He told us to think about the possibilities for this team if every one of us sacrificed and came together. I learned so much about being a quarterback while I was at Laurel. The opportunities at that great school are the ones that opened the door for me to play at another great school. Now, we need to bring it all together and this can become one compilation of success."
Follow Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter
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