September 11, 2009 9:38:00 AM
MACON -- The defense doesn''t rest at Noxubee County High School.
After losing seven starters to graduation from a unit that played a key role in a run to the Class 4A state title, the Tigers'' 2009 defense is out to show it can build a resume that is even more impressive.
Noxubee County (3-0) is coming off a 28-0 shutout against Murrah last week. The shutout was the Tigers'' second this season. They will try for No. 3 at 7:30 tonight when they to Greenville Weston.
"We lost a lot of starters, but the other guys played a lot last year," Noxubee County coach M.C. Miller said. "Most everybody we played we blew them out in the first half, so (the reserves) mostly played the second half against the other team''s first strong.
"They''re doing a good job. We''re not as big as we used to be, but we''re quicker. These guys have the attitude that they can do the same thing."
Last year, Noxubee County had seven shutouts and allowed just 92 points en route to a 14-0 finish.
On paper, it didn''t look like the Tigers would just reload this season.
Noxubee County graduated six of its top 10 tacklers from 2008, including its top four -- Deontae Skinner, LaDarius Mitchell, Jimmy Roby, and Grover Bland.
But anyone who knows Miller should have had an inkling the Tigers wouldn''t miss a beat on defense.
A year ago, Miller listed playing good defense as the No. 1 key to winning for the Noxubee County Tigers.
Things haven''t changed this year, even though Miller doesn''t think the defense has played up to its potential through three games.
"The main thing we want to do is run to the ball," Miller said. "We have been a little lazy about that this time. They have to pick it up."
Senior Jontae Skinner said the Tigers'' defense isn''t as big, especially up front, but he said the unit is faster than last season''s group.
He also said the players are working hard in the weight room to balance the unit''s strength with its speed.
"There is no way any team in the state of Mississippi should whup us," Skinner said. "It starts in practice. If we do it in practice we know we will be right."
Senior Fredeas Tate said the Tigers have played all right on defense in the first three games. He said the seniors have to do a better job of setting the tone on defense.
"The seniors this year have yet to get to what the seniors did last year," Tate said. "The seniors last year were a good group of leaders. They always ran to the ball and always did the little things to make themselves better."
Tate agreed with Miller that this season''s defense uses speed to be so effective. He didn''t hesitate to say the the 2009 defense is a little faster than last season''s unit.
Still, he wants this defense to do more to ensure Noxubee County is in position to defend its state title.
"We have to start taking things more seriously," Tate said. "We have to get more serious in practice, in the weight room, and at film time."
Miller said the Tigers led only 8-0 at halftime last week. He said the team can''t afford to start slowly as it gets later in the season.
If he needs any motivation, he can always challenge his players to surpass what the 2008 group accomplished.
"Last year, it seemed like we had a little better leadership and it seemed like we were hungrier," Miller said. "I don''t know if these guys think they''re just as good. We''re playing well, but to me, we''re not giving that effort that we should be giving."
Miller praised the play of Ladarius Hunt, Nelson Bolden, Corey Williams, Tate, and Skinner. He said consistency is the goal for those players and the rest of the unit.
The Tigers will need to be consistent tonight against a Greenville Weston team that Miller expects to line up and pound the ball on the ground.
That could be just the challenge Noxubee County''s defense needs to reach its goal.
"We''re going to have to be ready to come off the ball," Miller said. "If we''re not, they are going to blow us off the ball."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.