October 9, 2009 9:12:00 AM
Buddy Stephens is lucky.
The East Mississippi Community College football coach has a All-America quarterback (Randall Mackey) and a running back with Division I potential (former Starkville High standout Pat Shed).
But as well as those two have played this season, they are just two pieces to a puzzle that is coming together for the Lions.
When Stephens factors in a talented cast of receivers, led by Bill Franks and Stephon Johnson, and an equally skilled and experienced offensive line, it''s easy to see why the Lions are 5-1 and 3-0 in the MACJC.
No. 10 EMCC will try to improve those records at 2 p.m. Saturday when it plays host to Northeast Mississippi C.C. as part of its homecoming festivities.
Jeremiah McDonald (Starkville High), Billy Autrey (Columbus), and Quartney Cox and Avis Shelton (West Point) have played key roles in helping lead the way for Shed and protecting Mackey as the Lions try to defend their Northern Division title.
"We have a sophomore bunch and one freshman (Autrey), who is advanced in what he can do and is better than most high school seniors coming out," Stephens said. "They have been very, very important to our success."
Shelton, a left guard, is 6-foot-3, 310 pounds. He said he would like to continue his college career at Mississippi State. He said East Carolina, Louisville, and Arkansas are some of the other schools that are involved with him in the recruiting process.
Shelton said the camaraderie the members of the offensive line have developed has helped them succeed.
"We''re all pretty cool (with each other), and we''re from around the same area and we have pretty good chemistry," Shelton said.
Cox, a 6-3, 270-pound right tackle, said he has been surprised at how well the offensive line has played, and he feels it can do even better.
"We''re a lot better athletically than we were last year," Cox said. "We trained hard in the offseason and we lifted weights harder to it would make us strong to do well in the fourth quarter."
EMCC''s offensive numbers reflect the team''s productivity.
Shed, a sophomore, leads the team in rushing 494 yards on 79 carries). He has seven touchdowns, is averaging 82.3 yards per game (23rd nationally), and is tied for fifth in the state in rushing and tied for sixth in scoring (42 points).
"I feel I have played all right," Shed said. "I feel I have done better blocking and reading the holes better. I am going out there 10 times harder and having a better attitude and a positive attitude."
Shed said it has been an adjustment working in an offense that likes to pass the ball so much. He said came to EMCC with a background in running offenses and has had to tailor his game to fit the team''s needs.
"I know I am not going to get the ball every play and that if I was a better blocker that would fit our offense better and it would help us become a better team," Shed said.
Mackey is ranked second nationally in total offense (371.0 yards per game), third in passing (302.0 ypg.), and 35th in rushing (69.0 ypg). He has completed 69.7 percent of his passes (136-for-195) for 1,812 yards and 17 touchdowns (six interceptions).
Those gaudy numbers translate into an offense that leads the nation with an average of 549.2 ypg.
"The offensive line is a portion (of that success," Stephens said. "Randall Mackey is not only player. Pat Shed is not the only running back. They are just a piece of the puzzle, and that is what is really special about our football team. Everybody understands they''re a piece of the puzzle, and without every piece working hard and doing their best, the puzzle is not complete."
Stephens said the offensive line has to be able to adjust to the skills of the Lions'' playmakers. He said the Lions like to throw the ball, but that doesn''t mean Mackey, who has rushed for 414 yards and five touchdowns), won''t tuck the ball and take off.
Stephens also said the offensive linemen have done a good job opening holes for Shed and the other running backs. The Lions have rushed for 14 touchdowns and are averaging 222.2 yards rushing per game.
"We have thrown the ball a whole lot but not the most in the state this year," Stephens said. "We have been very, very balanced. If we feel like we can run the ball on you, we will run it. If we feel like we can throw the ball on you, we''ll throw it. With the maturation of Pat Shed and the offensive line, Randall hasn''t had to win every game."
Stephens said Shed''s overall knowledge and understanding of the Lions'' passing game has improved. He said the former Yellow Jacket has come to practice and to games every day and has worked hard.
"He is a dependable kid," Stephens said. "You know what you''re going to get every day when he lines up to play. We''re very, very pleased with the way he has progressed. Whoever signs him is going to get one heck of a good football player."
Stephens has been impressed with the way Shed (10 catches, 119 yards) has honed his receiving skills. He also said the sophomore''s vision has gotten better, which will help him contribute at a four-year school.
"He understands what it takes," Stephens said. "There are times as a running back that you have to understand not every run has to be for 100 yards. You have to be able to get great yards and to protect the ball and understand what we want out of every play. He is as good as any wide receiver we have catching the ball, and we can send him out in motion because he is just as fast as any guy on our team."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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