October 21, 2009 9:19:00 AM
MABEN — Numbers don’t tell the whole story at East and West Oktibbeha high schools.
If they did, the schools’ football teams would be doomed for failure.
But even though the schools on opposite ends of Oktibbeha County are among the state’s smallest, coaches Anthony King and Adam Lowrey are doing their best to build programs.
The second-year coaches are having success this season. The Timberwolves (4-4, 4-2 Class 1A, Region 3, District 4) are coming off a 40-6 loss Friday to Nanih Waiya, while East Oktibbeha (4-4, 3-3) lost to Weir 32-26 in five overtimes Friday.
Both schools will try to get back on track at 7 p.m. Thursday when they meet in Maben. The outcome of the game likely will help determine the region’s playoff teams.
Nanih Waiya (6-0) and Weir (5-1) lead the district, while French Camp, South Leake, and West Oktibbeha are tied at 4-2. East Oktibbeha (3-3), Noxapeter and Ethel (both 2-4) also are still in contention for the district’s top four spots and a trip to the playoffs.
East and West Oktibbeha both have two more district games remaining after this week.
Lowrey’s Timberwolves have won four games with limited senior involvement and often less than 20 players dressed out. He said he started the season with 22 on the roster and has had to fight all season to try to stay close to that number.
Rather than dwelling on what he doesn’t have, Lowrey has focused on what he has. He remembers talking last year with assistant coach John Brown and doing some figuring on a napkin while at lunch. On one half of the napkin he wrote all of the team’s dependable players. On the other half he wrote the names of all of the players who weren’t doing what they were supposed to be doing. He ripped the napkin in half and asked Brown if he thought the Timberwolves could go with just the dependable players. The consensus was that the team couldn’t do any worse, even if it only finished last year with 13, including eighth-graders.
West Oktibbeha might have suffered a little last year. Its home game against East Webster was a prime example, as the Timberwolves often moved backward on offense.
“If the ball would have bounced our way and the referee would have given us 10 calls, it wouldn’t have made any difference,” Lowrey said. “That was where we were.”
This year, though, Lowrey’s decision to make several changes to the lineup has provided a spark.
“I decided to put our best players in the most important places and let’s build around that,” Lowrey said. “We’re finding our identity on offense and our defensive intensity always has been there. With Jeremy Brown, Josh Poe, Quadarrius Thompson, and Tiberious Lampkin, I am sound (at linebacker) because they are all running to the ball. With Dwight Quinn, who runs a 4.5 (in the 40-yard dash), he is helping out my babies that I have at corner.”
With limited numbers, Lowrey said conditioning has been key for West Oktibbeha. He said his players take pride in the fact that they work harder in practice than most teams. He said that regimen is part of his plan to build a program.
“The way you win is you beat the rebellion out of them,” Lowrey said. “You beat the pride out of them and then you pick them up and tell them there is nothing they can’t do. You put them together and make them work hard and work together. The hard work makes them unite. We run 20 120s after practice. We lift weights. I have a cycle and then we practice and then we run. If you don’t make your times, you run an extra one after.”
Josh Poe said all of the conditioning has helped the Timberwolves grow closer. He said last season was difficult because the team wasn’t together and it was like “everybody was full of themselves and they didn’t want to listen to what coach was saying or what he was doing.”
Things are different this season.
“Whatever coach says we are going to do it,” Poe said. “It is a team thing. It is a big difference.”
The 5-foot-9, 175-pound junior running back epitomizes the Timberwolves. Although undersized, he used his speed and athleticism to make an impact. Poe usually doesn’t get much of a break during games, but he doesn’t mind. He said he is used to the commitment it takes to be a member of the program.
“It’s heart,” Poe said. “It is the will, and you have to have a lot of heart.”Lowrey said his players share that bond — as well as a relationship with Jesus Christ. He said both things help them overcome the numbers game that works against them.
“They do pull for each other,” Lowrey said. “One thing I told them this year is that if somebody walks off mad and you go get him, I am going to punish you when you get back. It really showed them that they need to encourage each other to do right and not to sympathize somebody when they do wrong.”
Lowrey is confident it is just a matter of time before the building process takes shape. He knows West Oktibbeha has what it takes to be a player in Class 1A.
“Once I get the community to feel the same way it won’t be long,” Lowrey said. “I will keep working with them and get this community back involved and let them know that this is not Maben. This is West Oktibbeha. Once they realize that, it is really going to turn around.”
King wants to build the same kind of program at East Oktibbeha. He might have an advantage on Lowrey in that he has more numbers (a roster with more than 30 players), but he said he also faces challenges.
King installed a Wing-T offense in an attempt to exploit his team speed. He believes next season the football team will have more size, but he feels the experience will help the program take another step next season.
King said quarterback Chris Hunter has done a good job this season. He said the rainy weather has hampered Hunter’s ability to throw the ball, but he has adjusted well to directing the misdirection in the Wing-T.
“We have been in every game this year,” King said. “The guys have been getting better each week. That is all you can ask for.”
King said he has a junior high program but doesn’t have a freshman or a junior varsity team. He said quite a few freshmen are earning playing time this season, but he expects bigger and better things in the years to come.
The progress is noticeable this season. Last year, the Titans were shut out five times, including a stretch of four consecutive games. This season, they have scored 188 points, including 58- and 50-point games against Thomastown and Edinburg, and have been shut out only once (a 26-0 loss to West Lowndes on Aug. 28).
“We have come a long way since last year,” said King, who credits the Wing-T for some of his team’s success. “They see the Wing-T and they don’t give it too much thought and think it is easy to stop. It has been good for our guys. We also run other formations to keep people of stride. We will run the spread, the Wishbone, or the flex, with two backs in the backfield and the quarterback in the shotgun. We can do multiple things.”
Darico Dancer, a 5-11, 155-pound senior linebacker, said the defense has picked it up this season and is doing pretty well. He said he is looking forward to the next chapter of the rivalry against West Oktibbeha. He said he has heard some of his teammates have received text messages or phone calls from players at West Oktibbeha predicting the outcome of the game.
Dancer said the Titans are going to do their best to make sure that result is in their favor.
“I heard about it, but I didn’t talk to anybody from West,” Dancer said. “They got us last year. We are a better team from last year and we are looking to be 5-4 next year. I am going to say it, we’re going to be 5-4 next year.”
Dancer said the Titans rely on discipline and passion to succeed. He said King’ decision to install the Wing-T has helped the team generate a lot of offense. He feels the program will get even better after he leaves.
“It is good to see wins come up this year,” Dancer said. “We have three more wins than we did last year, and it is good to see us progressing. Next
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.