November 6, 2013 11:49:28 PM
For Ray Perkins, it has always been about seeing a player or group of players find success.
"The biggest thrill you get in coaching is seeing a player succeed," Perkins said. "I did not get in this business because of me. Even after all of these years, it is still not about me. To be able to see a player of group of players work hard to achieve something and to see that smile when they do makes it all worthwhile. The thrill of seeing that in a player's face is the same today as it was when I first started coaching."
Perkins has coached a bunch of football players and seen first-hand a bunch of success stories.
Thus it can't come as a really big surprise that he has another big game to coach Saturday.
In his second season at Jones County Junior College, Perkins has the Bobcats ranked fourth nationally. Jones will play No. 2 East Mississippi Community College Saturday in Scooba for the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges state championship.
For a man who served as a head coach at the University of Alabama, Arkansas State University and in the National Football League with the New York Giants and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, one might have to wonder where a junior college state championship game ranks on the all-time list.
"A championship game is still a championship game," Perkins said. "You have brought in a group of young men with the promise of playing for a championship. When you reach the championship game, there is a great deal of satisfaction. You have seen the players work so hard from the first day they report on your campus. This is where you promised you could take them. So it is an incredible feeling to know that this group of young men put it all together and found a way to play for that championship."
Perkins retired from the NFL following the 2000 season. He and his wife Lisa decided to make the Hattiesburg area their retirement destination. Several years later, Presbyterian Christian School lured Perkins out of retirement to be a volunteer coach with the high school football program.
When Jones started actively seeking a replacement for Eddie Pierce, Jones president Dr. Jesse Smith had a surprise resume cross his desk - it belonged to Perkins.
"I just felt like I still had something to give," Perkins said. "It was a unique opportunity in an unique setting."
Perkins has quickly come up to speed on the level of play in the MACJC. Being named five days before Christmas in 2011, the ability to put together a complete recruiting class was non-existent. However, Perkins and his staff did the best they could on the fly and posted a 6-3 record, including victories over arch-rivals Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College and Pearl River Community College. Jones tied for the division championship but lost out on the tie-breaker and did not make the playoffs.
This season, the Bobcats did not need a tie-breaker. Jones finished 9-1, with its only loss being to Hinds Community College. Again, the Bobcats beat Gulf Coast and Pearl River making Perkins the first-ever Jones coach to start 4-0 against the main two rivals.
After being one of the state's best programs for close to three decades last century, Jones is back in the spotlight. The Bobcats will try to win their first state championship since 2001. Jones also played for the title in 2002 and 2007.
"The level of play in this league is massively under-rated," Perkins said. "I don't think people realize how many really great players play in the league. It is the perfect first stop for some players who are not ready to play Division I football. The drawing point is that the game is high-scoring. Every team in the league throws it all over the field. Most of the teams have some really great skilled athletes. So it is an entertaining product for the fans. The players can become acclimated with all of the expectations of being a college student-athlete. It has been quite a learning experience for me. I think the game on this level is great."
For the Jones players, it has been a learning experience as well. Not only is the 71-year-old Perkins imparting four decades of playing and coaching experience, he is taking a genuine interest in their futures.
Earlier this season, Perkins' close friend and National Football League Hall of Fame coaching colleague Bill Parcells spoke to the team, spent the night with Perkins and rode with the team to a game at Southwest Mississippi Community College.
Perkins quickly deflects the praise for his team to a hard-working coaching staff. Defensive coordinator Steve Boyd has coached 21 seasons on the Jones campus. At this point in his career, Perkins is not going to drive the back roads of Mississippi looking for the diamonds in the rough.
"I have the hardest-working staff in the state," Perkins said. "That makes my job easy."
Not making the job easy is the recent changes in recruiting policies for MACJC institutions. In the fall of 2011, the recruiting districts were eliminated and schools no longer could protect the 22 best high school seniors in their district. Thanks to the late hiring of Perkins and the elimination of districts, a scramble took place to complete last season's roster.
Less than 10 miles from the Jones campus, Laurel High School played in the 2011 Mississippi High School Activities Association's Class 4A state championship. Off that team, five players will suit up for EMCC Saturday and none for Jones.
"We went after all five of them but it was too late," Perkins said. "We are going to stay at home with our recruiting. Even though we now can, it makes no sense to recruit the entire state. It is not financially an option. There are enough players for us to win with, right here in our own backyard."
Perkins has won with those players. And now, he and the Bobcats are one win away from a championship.
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