September 17, 2009 11:54:00 AM
An abundance of playmakers has helped the East Mississippi Community College football team climb to No. 2 in the nation.
The contributions are coming from the usual places -- like All-America sophomore quarterback Randall Mackey -- and plenty of unlikely sources, particularly a player with a broken hand.
Sophomore free safety Anthony Hines, a former standout at Starkville High, discovered last week just how difficult it is to make an interception with a cast on your hand.
Hines missed the first two attempts but caught the ball with his fingertips on his third try for an interception to help the Lions improve to 3-0.
Hines will try to duplicate that effort at 7 tonight when No. 2 EMCC plays host to No. 13 and defending state champion Mississippi Gulf Coast at 7 tonight at Sullivan-Windham Field.
The Lions (3-0) are coming off a 41-14 victory against Holmes C.C., while the Bulldogs (2-1) defeated Southwest Mississippi (33-16) last week.
Hines, cornerback Chris McFadden, a former West Point High standout, and freshman cornerback Johnny Cockrell, a former standout at Columbus High, have played key roles on a defense that is third in the state behind Copiah-Lincoln and Mississippi Gulf Coast (271 yards per game).
"(Anthony and Chris) are doing good and are using their knowledge of the game to help get the younger guys lined up and to make sure the other guys are doing what they need to do," EMCC secondary coach Clifton Collins said. "They have great work ethic and they are always on time."
Hines leads the team with 14 solo tackles and is second on the squad with 21 overall tackles. He has one interceptions and two pass breakups.
McFarland has nine solo tackles (18 overall, including one for a loss). He also has two pass breakups and a forced fumble.
Collins said both players have the potential to play at a four-year school, which is something both student-athletes said is their goal.
Hines played two weeks ago with a wrap on his injured hand that made it look like a club. Last week, he said a smaller cast covered his stitches and forced him to try to alter the technique he uses to catch the ball.
That is just one adjustment Hines has made at EMCC. He has gained nearly 10 pounds, added strength, and improved his quickness and his fundamentals.
"Last year, I had a problem with staying back," Hines said. "I was too aggressive last year, so now I am trying to stay back as much as I can."
Hines feels his ability to read the game has improved and he knows better when to pick his spots and how to let the linebackers in front of him do their jobs.
McFarland, who played sparingly last season, said he also has added some weight to help him come up in run support to make tackles. He knows he has come a long way since high school and credits his coaches for teaching him and his family for supporting him.
"I never say I am better than somebody, but I always try to work harder," McFarland said. "It is never good enough, even when I (think) I am good enough. I have to gain a couple of more pounds and one or two more steps and I will be just fine."
n EMCC has won 10 consecutive regular-season games. It also has won 10 in a row against MGCCC dating back to 1987.
Last season, the Lions earned a 27-23 victory at No. 2 and defending national co-champion MGCCC.
Eight of the 10 most meetings having been decided by 10 points or less.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.